The Jewish Eye
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
By Michael Chabon
ISBN 10: 0007149824
ISBN 13: 978-0007149827
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 9, 2007
In The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Pulitzer Prize-Winning author, Michael Chabon has created an alternate reality world where an atomic bomb was dropped on Berlin in 1946, effectively ending World War II and Israel lost its War of Independence, leaving the survivors of the Holocaust without a homeland to go to. Hope, however, was not lost, and the surviving remnant of Jewry found a temporary new homeland - in Sitka, Alaska. In this reality, Sitka is more aptly named the Federal District of Sitka, and it is soon set to 'revert' back to Alaskan / American control, at which time most of the Yiddish speaking Jews of Sitka will once again be forced to pack their bags and search out a new home.
While this book is infused with all things Jewish, it is at its heart, a somewhat eclectic police procedural. The detective at the center of this story is Meyer Landsman, who is a homicide detective with the Sitka District Police, an agency that will be dissolved once the reversion takes place, which is set to happen in just a few months time. When a fellow resident of the Hotel Zamenhof is found murdered, it falls upon Landsman and his partner, Berko Shemets, to solve the crime.
Along the way, Landsman, who could have fallen out of a 1940's noir detective novel, finds himself working on a case that the authorities don't want solved - and they are not the only ones. To complicate matters there is a terrorist plot in the works, the characters are dealing with the prospect of soon being kicked out of Sitka, and there is a potential Messiah on the loose. These are but a few of the many twists and turns that populate this exciting page-turner. Oh, and did I forget to mention, his ex-wife is also his boss...
Chabon's writing is almost lyrical in quality, and often humorous as well. This novel is amply seasoned with Yiddish words and phrases that helps add to the already detailed atmosphere of the book's setting. The setting of the story, in this alternate reality of Sitka as a temporary safe-haven for displaced Jews, is intriguing in its own right. However, set against this unique backdrop is a rather typical detective story, complete with a love interest for the hero, lots of bad guys, lots of hairy situations to extricate himself from, and a bucket full of red-herrings that will help keep you guessing just 'who done it' until the very end.
In short, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is peopled with exciting and unforgettable characters, and it offers readers a delightful foray into alternate reality, while also providing them with a solid and intriguing mystery. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to read something just a little out of the ordinary!
Charbon is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the book for which he won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Some of his other books include The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Werewolves in Their Youth, and The Final Solution. I hope that he will return to the world of Jewish Sitka to let us know how things are going there!
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