Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
For 60 years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the
Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of the
Holocaust and the 1948 collapse of the state of Israel. Now the District is set
to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an untimely end.
Homicide detective Meyer Landsman has enough problems without worrying about the
upcoming Reversion. He and his partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in
any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his
life, who just happens to be his ex-wife. And in the cheap hotel where he has
washed up, someone has committed a murderright under Landsman's nose.
Despite orders from on high not to pursue the case, Landsman decides to
investigate. Before long, he finds himself contending with the powerful
forcesfaith, obsession, hope, evil, and salvationthat make up his complicated
Questions for Discussion
- Why does Meyer Landsman feel a special kinship with the murder victim in
Rm. 208 of the Hotel Zamenhof, and how is that affinity responsible for his
- To what extent is Bina Gelbfish sympathetic to Meyer's professional
situation? How does their current involvement as police department
colleagues reflect the complicated nature of their history with one another?
- Why does the prospect of Reversion compromise Meyer and Berko's ability
to solve their outstanding cases, and what does that possibility mean to
both of them?
- How would you characterize the nature of the interaction of native
peoples and Jewish immigrants in Sitka, Alaska, and its environs?
- How surprising is the coincidence of the deaths of Naomi Landsman and
Mendel Shpilman, given the small-world sense of "Jewish geography" in Sitka
and the Alaskan panhandle?
- Why does Willy Dick agree to help Meyer and Berko in their efforts to
uncover the truth behind the Peril Strait, and what does his doing so reveal
about his allegiances?
- How does the author explore variations on the theme of fathers and sons
in the relationships between Meyer and his father, Meyer and Django, Berko
and Hertz, and Mendel and Rebbe Shpilman in this novel?
- How does the author's use of copious historical facts throughout the
novel impact your reading of The Yiddish Policemen's Union as a work
of fiction? To what extent does the Jewish settlement in Sitka, Alaska, seem
like an actual community?
- Why do Meyer, Berko, and Bina agree to suppress their knowledge of a
vast conspiracy, and what does that decision reveal about their own sense of
the balance between justice and self-preservation?
- Of the many eccentric and unforgettable characters in The Yiddish
Policemen's Union, which were the most memorable to you, and why?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.