Friday, May 30, 2008

[Book Review] THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION by Michael Chabon


Alice Kendall reviews THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION by Michael Chabon (Harper Collins, 2007)

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is the winner of the 2007 Nebula Award for best science fiction novel. It was also nominated for the 2008 Pulitzer award for literature and the 2008 Edgar award for best mystery novel. Intrigued, I had to read this book.

If you like space travel and aliens (as in ETs), this is not the book for you. It is an alternate history novel in which the United States offered part of the Alaskan Territory as a sanctuary for the Jews at the start of WWII and then again when the Nation of Israel was driven into the sea in 1948. Sixty years later, the United States is taking the land back and the Jews have two months to find somewhere else to go.

That’s the integral backdrop. The book starts with a murder in the hotel where our hero lives--our member of the Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Slowly, inexorably, we are drawn into Meyer Landsman’s life; his feelings of guilt and love, his desires, his fears; his angst. We are given a glimpse of the Jewish consciousness, warts and all. All the while, the murder investigation, which starts out turgidly, continues to gain momentum. The identity of the dead man is answered quickly which only makes the questions of "who" and "why" that much more important. Unfortunately, the powers that be have ruled that all criminal cases are to be closed by the time of "reversion." So Landsman’s dead neighbor is consigned to the "cold case file." Unable to except this, Landsman continues to investigate even after his suspension.

Caught up in a story that is loaded with Yiddish slang that I don’t understand, that seemed to progress the plot marginally faster than a snail, I started wondering if the book was the choice of literature snobs. But I just couldn’t believe that critics in three different genres could be wrong, so I kept going. And my reward was pure enjoyment. This book excels on so many levels. The writing is flawless, the characters are true, the premise is intriguing and the outcome is totally satisfying in its uncertainty. Now I have to read the winners of the Pulitzer and the Edgar to see why this one didn’t win.

Alice Kendall, Parkway Village Branch Library

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Glad to hear Chabon's new book is a hit. What's amazing about Chabon's adventures as a writer is the multiple routes he's taken. In creating fictional hoaxes as in this article at N+ 1 there's a note of playful brilliance: And now he's created a site where he writes a story everyday under a different identity:’m-michael-chabon/ Chabon has a writing schedule of ten to four everyday so perhaps his prolific nature should come as no surprise.
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