For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.
But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his lifeand also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murderright under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritageand with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.
At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.
Chabon effortlessly leaps themes and genres in a tightly written novel in which gangsters, extremists and conspiracies jostle for space. The Yiddish Policemen's Union can be read as a well written noir-thriller, or as a powerful piece of political writing with themes and world events mirroring those of our own timeline, or both! (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
The Boston Globe - Gail Caldwell The Yiddish Policemen's Union is fueled with [energy similar to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay] but it's a strange, passionate misfire -- obsessively constructed, meticulously researched, Byzantine in its plot line, but a thing of wonder only to itself. It's half-brilliant but half-boring, maybe because Chabon has so fallen under the sway of his creation that he lost control of its tenets.
USA Today - Deirdre Donahue
Some readers will adore this book and admire its undeniable originality, rich language and audacity. Others will hate it and find it bleak, overwrought and bewildering. But it will provoke strong reactions.
Washington Post - Elizabeth McCracken
In this strange and breathtaking novel, the wise, unhappy man settles for closer comforts. As Landsman says, toward the end of the book, "My homeland is in my hat."
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
While Mr. Chabon makes the ultimate answer to [the murder-mystery] too far-fetched to be plausible, his account of Landsman’s detective work remains suspenseful and artfully done. More important, Mr. Chabon has so thoroughly conjured the fictional world of Sitka — its history, culture, geography, its incestuous and byzantine political and sectarian divisions — that the reader comes to take its existence for granted. By the end of the book, we feel we know this chilly piece of northern real estate, where Yiddish is the language of choice, the same way we feel we have come to know Meyer Landsman — this “secular policeman” who has learned to sail “double-hulled against tragedy,” ever wary of “the hairline fissures, the little freaks of torque” that can topple a boat in the shallows.
The Seattle Times - Michael Upchurch
Chabon's wiseguy-noir alternahistory is a marvelous creation. Its characters are full of gothic or sardonic vigor, and its island landscape is lovingly rendered. Its Yiddish-flecked prose has an Annie Proulx-like density of regional vocabulary (except in this case the region doesn't exactly exist). The plotting is tight and the book is shapelier than Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Signature Reviewed by Jess Walter. It's a solid performance that would have been even better with a little more Yiddish and a little less police.
Booklist - Bill Ott
Starred Review. Even without grasping all the Yiddish wordplay that seasons the delectable prose, readers will fall headlong into the alternate universe of Chabon's Sitka, where black humor is a kind of antifreeze necessary to support life.
A page-turning noir, with a twist of Yiddish, that satisfies on many levels.
Raucous, acidulous, decidedly impolite, yet stylistically arresting, this book is bloody brilliant and if it's way over the top, that's what makes Chabon such a great writer. Highly recommended
The Sydney Morning Herald - Malcolm Knox
[N]o novelist as gifted and ambitious as Chabon wants his book to be read simply as a clue-puzzle ..... Chabon's questions are deeply political and this novel, written in the present tense, is as immediate to today's Middle East as the other September 11-inflected novels around .... Is the novel successful? Resoundingly, yes - although tethering his interests to the propulsion of a detective story limits Chabon's freedom. It's as if he's put a jet engine on a paddle steamer: it moves the thing forward but it may not be the best way to absorb the scenery.
Over the years a number of
different plans for a Jewish
homeland have been proposed. A
1903 British proposal offered
5,000 square miles of the Mau
Plateau (in what is now Kenya)
to the Jewish people as a
homeland. This offer, presented
at the sixth Zionist Congress in
Basel, was in response to
pogroms against the Jews in
Russia. The proposal resulted in
fierce debate - the Russians
stormed out in opposition and
some groups felt it would make
it more difficult to establish a
Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Nevertheless, the motion passed
by 295 to 177 votes. The
following year a 3-man
delegation visited the plateau
and found the climate
acceptable, but they also found
a large number of Maasai already...
In an alternate history, a radical group overthrew Churchill and made peace with Hitler. Now, eight years later at a country retreat, one of the group is murdered; and suspicion falls on the Jewish husband of one of their adult children.
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