2007. 97. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

“Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.  Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of room 208, a yid who was calling himself Emmanuel Lasker.”

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon

This was a great book - not that I would expect any less from Chabon, of course.  The story is about a policeman trying to solve a murder, but what makes it a great book is the premise - this is set in an alternate universe where the United States had created a temporary safe haven for the Jews in Sitka Alaska in the 1940’s, where they have created a rich and elaborate cultural life in the snow.  However, the “temporary” time period is up, and the Jews are left homeless (yet again), all unsure of where they will be going and what will happen next.  In this context Meyer Landsman (a down on his luck cop) and his half Indian cousin Berko Shemets try to solve one last case as their society crumbles around them.

And what a case it is - the mystery is totally and absolutely satisfying, and the tropes of noir/detective fiction are playfully used and expanded as needed.  But to my mind, what made the book great was the society he created in Sitka - the various types of Jews and the different rules and worlds they created.  It was so richly imagined, with so much detail, and yet didn’t overturn the plot at all. It takes a little work to understand it all, but it is a great, grand read from a great writer.

Recommended for:  Anyone who loved Wonder Boys or Kavalier & Clay (this is a good book, but I’m not sure I’d tell you to start there with Chabon - its a little less accessible than his other reads); anyone who loves a mystery or a well developed alternate world

Date/Place Completed: 7/3/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017