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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, but this novel is so different. I mean really different. It is a conglomeration of a novel with elements of several genres all rolled into one. It is an alternate history, and it took me a while to realize that; I found myself asking why I'd never heard of... Well, let us just say that Chabon plants you right in the middle of an alternate history (liberally mixed with both actual and fictional facts) and never bothers to look back and see if you might need help interpreting his world or even realize what is going on. It is a mystery and a bit of hard-boiled detective fiction. It is full of references to Jewish culture which ( given the fictional historical facts that threw me off) could be accurate...or not. Lots of Yiddish terms that must be figured out by context. Or are they terms specific to Sitka, Alaska?

No concessions here, folks. You are along for the ride, or not, and Chabon is going his merry way regardless. I vacillated between pleasure and annoyance, fun and frustration, but I never put it down for long.

There is a murder. There is a divorced and frequently drunken policeman. An Indian Jew. a possible Tzaddik Ha-Dor. An ex-wife. A boundary maven. A sect of black hat ultra-religious gangsters. And more, much more.

I loved Landsman and Berko. What a team. In fact, Chabon's major cast of characters are dynamic - they almost come off the page (and in the case of Rebbe Shpilman, you really don't want that to happen); they are flawed, vulnerable, charming, chilling, and believable. At least, in the alternate history of Sitka, Alaska. One of my favorite characters doesn't come in until the last portion of the book, but he was definitely worth waiting for.

As a finished product - it is perhaps a bit too entangled and it sometimes drags. You want to say, "Enough with the similes, Chabon! Get on with the story!"

While not nearly as good as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon makes you care, he makes you laugh, and if you can get past the confusion, he makes you realize what a feat this novel is. Then again, maybe one just can't compare apples and oranges.

Fiction. Mystery? Alternate history? 2007. 411 pages.


  1. My hubby had a hard time w/ this one, too. He's a finisher, but he also gave me a no need to read vibe.

    Just stopped by to wish you a Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2008! :D

  2. I am glad you warned me about the alternate history angle. I have been wanting to read this book for quite a while, but was planning to start with some of the author's earlier works first. This one does sound like it has an interesting premise at least. :-)

  3. Maggie - If I had not liked Landsman so much, I might have put it down. Chabon really expected a lot of the reader in this one, and I frequently chastised him (mentally). I'm not sure I'd recommend it, but when I finished, I found myself still thinking about it.

    Happy New Year to you too, Maggie!

    L.F. - I'd start with Kavalier & Clay , (it won the Pulitzer in 2001) not this one. I'm going to read Chabon's The Final Solution next. Happy New Year!

  4. despite all the 'mixed' review I look forward to delving into the YPU. if it is half as good as K&C it will still be better than so many books!

  5. Kim - It is so different from K & C. I had to work to keep up with him sometimes; at other times, I just luxuriated in the language; Landsman and Berko were always real, but sometimes events seemed surreal; the way Chabon uses language is mostly a delight, but I was sometimes distracted by the heavy use of similes. I love the fact that the man takes the risks that he does and that he feels free to experiment with other genres (he is a big supporter of genre fiction). The fact that I have so much to say about this novel (and can't say much without giving things away) is revealing. Hurry up, Kim, and read it!

  6. This one's on my list! Regardless of how frustrating it may be, I'll probably stick it out: I do love Chabon's voice. Have you read Wonder Boys or his short stories? If you liked K&C you probably will enjoy them.

  7. LK - I'm going for The Final Solution next, I think, but Wonder Boys and Summerland are on my Chabon list! I'm eager to hear how you feel about TYPU - I would actually like to see the characters turn up in future installments.