Book Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon is a fictional alternate history book published in 2007. This book has won several science fiction awards: the Nebula Award for Best Novel, the Locus Award for Best SF Novel, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the Sidewise Award for Alternate History for Best Novel. It was shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel and the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.

  • 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007149824

Book Review The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

My rating for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – 4

Buy this book in paper or electronic format

The premise ofThe Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (website) is simple: what if Israel lost the 1948 war, the Jews were driven into the sea and Roosevelt’s proposal of establishing a Jewish state in Alaska passed (I’m sure the deciding vote belonged to Storm Thurman). Thus the setting of Sitka, Alaska – a town where Yiddish is the native tongue and kosher is the law of the land – is born. The tale is weaved around an alcoholic, yet highly moral, homicide detective, his ex-wife (now his boss), his missing sister and a bunch Jewish mobsters hiding behind their religion (but which mobster doesn’t).

Throw in a wannabe messiah as well and you got yourself a story.

The novel has a noir feel and smoothly moves along like an old familiar pulp detective novel, the story has some rich Jewish imagery from old Europe as well as jokes and, like the old Yiddish tales, each paragraph is crafted to be rich in meaning and thick with symbolism.

This is a good book but, for me, a slow read. Maybe the symbolism was too much, maybe I had to re-read some parts or maybe I just didn’t “get” several points.
Yet, I enjoyed the novel very much.

I felt the book dragged a bit in the middle, but quickly picked up. The story is interesting, the premise is brilliant. This is not just a “Jewish murder mystery”, but also about Diaspora, a search for a home and a community which is being ostracized from the world.

Related Reads:
The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jew­ish Com­mu­nity by Charles Lon­don

Meyer Landsman is a detective with the Sitka police department. Meyer is also an alcoholic who lives in a hotel where, by the way, is the murder which he is investigating. Berko Shemets is Meyer’s partner, half Jew half Tlingit, when the partners file the report they discover that Meyer’s ex-wife has been promoted and is now their boss.

The detectives discover that the corpse belongs to Mendel Shpilman, son of a powerful rebbe/mobster who was believed to be Tzadik Ha-dor (righteous of his generation) and a potential messiah. To make the murder even more convulouted, it turns out that the rightous one has taken a flight with Meyer’s deceased sister, Naomi.

Buy this book in paper or electronic format

Zohar – Man of la Book
Disclaimer: I bought this book.

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