Green Stockings Craft & Design

July 13, 2010

Book Review: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

Filed under: Books — Tags: — GreenStockings Craft & Creative Events @ 7:00 PM

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Reading time: less than 1 week
Number of pages: 400+
Book from: Fripe-Prix

Chabon has created an alternative history for the 20th century in which Jews, exiled from Palestine, have settled on the West coast of Alaska in the burgeoning city of Sitka. Officially a temporary Federal District, Sitka will revert its territory to Alaska in six months time, and the future of the Jews of Sitka, the Sitka District Police, and Detective Meyer Landsman, are uncertain. What a time for a man to get shot in the scummy hotel where Landsman has been living since his divorce.

Strange times to be a Jew.

A story of a whole culture’s fear, exile, and self-pity hidden inside a murder mystery adventure, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is rife with archetypes – the partially destroyed, alcoholic police officer who is offered a chance at redemption; the returning ex-wife (smarter, sassier, and stronger than the ex-husband she left); the “half-breed” Tinglit/Jew side-kick who struggles between his histories; and the Messiah-who-could-have-been, who turns up dead.

Fortunately, they are archetypes, not stereotypes. Chabon has created an alternate world which hangs together without being startling, contrived, or even particularly alien. It leaves you at least partially believing that the world that he has created is really our own, that Chabon himself grew up with penguin pajamas, and an island full of maniacal Messianic Orthodox Jews living across the bridge. His Alaskan Jewish enclave is rich in culture and character, and the “historical” tidbits he peppers through his narrative can be amusing and sweet – JFK seems to have survived and married Marilyn Munroe.


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