TBR: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

I fell in love with the world that Michael Chabon created in the Yiddish Policeman’s Union on the first page, when the main character, a Yiddish policeman of course, referred to his gun, his piece, as a "sholem"  (which is both Yiddish and Hebrew for peace).  I’m a sucker for puns, and when you make them multi-lingual and integral to the world view, I’m hooked.  Twenty or so pages in, Chabon hit me in the kishkes with a passing reference to the two million who died in the Holocaust.  (Just typing that gives me the shivers again.)

A few years ago, Chabon wrote an essay about a book he encountered, "Say it in Yiddish" and imagined it as a guidebook to an alternative world, one where you might have to ask about a bus schedule or buy a dress in Yiddish, in other words, one in which Yiddish was a living spoken language.  This book is set in that alternative world, one where the Jews were given chunk of Alaska as a (temporary) homeland.  It’s one where Hebrew is a dying language, spoken only by those with nostalgic memories of the long-past Zionist experiment, where the Chassids who wear the fur coats and black hats of their Polish ancestors are perfectly well dressed for the Alaskan winter.

Oh, and it’s also a murder mystery, and a hard-boiled detective story.   It’s a wildly ambitious book, and even though it doesn’t quite succeed at everything it reaches for (the last few chapters spiral out of control, and I didn’t know what to make of the ending), that still puts it ahead of most of what I’ve read lately.

5 Responses to “TBR: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union”

  1. Wayne Says:

    I received this book for father’s day and cannot wait to read it.

  2. Jackie Says:

    I never buy books in hardcover, because I am cheap, but I loved Kavalier & Clay and Summerland so much that this review may have tipped me over the edge.

  3. Susan Says:

    I just finished this book this morning! It is a captivating place: I love the languages that interplay, and the alternative history/geographies. You’re right, the plot does careen a bit at the end (something I also thought was true of Kavalier and Klay), but it’s a most excellent read.

  4. TC Says:

    I’m so glad you reviewed this; it’s the next book we’re reading for my synagogue’s book club, and I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it, but now I’ll be a lot more optimistic going in…

  5. landismom Says:

    Thanks for not spoiling the ending, btw. I am looking forward to reading this too much to know what’s going to happen in advance!

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