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The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – Deckle Edge, April 29, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 667 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Chabon's storytelling, in this alternate history of a world where Jews were settled in Alaska after World War II, is vivid enough, with inventive metaphors packed in like tapestry threads, but Peter Riegert's versatile voice makes the invented society even more tangible. Told through the eyes of Meyer Landsman, a police detective investigating a murder, the novel occurs in a strange time to be a Jew, as several characters ruefully put it: the special Jewish district will soon be controlled by Alaska again. In a bonus interview on the last disc, Chabon relates his desire to write about a place where Yiddish was an official language. The book is shot through with Yiddish phrases and names, which melodically roll off Riegert's tongue. He gives Landsman and his tough but warmhearted partner Berko similar yet distinct gruff voices that contrast well with the effeminate-sounding sect leader and the Southern-accented Americans who come to start the land reversion process. Riegert's pacing increases the enjoyment of this expertly spun mystery.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Does The Yiddish Policemen's Union live up to Michael Chabon's formidable reputation? There is no consensus: some critics called the novel the spiritual heir to the Pulitzer Prize?winning Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000); others thought it a disappointing aberration. As in Kavalier & Clay, Chabon explores issues of identity, assimilation, and mass culture, but he also pays homage to the noir detective novel—with mixed results. The New York Times called Landsman "one of the most appealing detective heroes to come along since Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe," while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette felt that the work "came nowhere close to making the cut of a Raymond Chandler novel." Critics similarly disagreed about the writing, the convoluted plot, the symbolism of the Jewish-Native American conflict, and the controversial use of Yiddish slurs and caricatures. If not a glowing success, The Yiddish Policemen's Union nonetheless illustrates the rare talents and creativity of its author.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007149832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007149834
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (667 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on May 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
said the words out loud those who had assumed Yiddish was a language of the past only, suddenly felt it had been revived. . . . It seemed to be saying `khbin nisht vos ikh bin amol geven. I am not what I once was. Ober `khbin nisht geshtorbn. Ikh leb. But I did not die. I live." Irena Klepfisz.

Yiddish is certainly not dead in Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union". In fact, the primary language of Jews throughout the "Pale of Settlement" (where Jews were allowed to live in Imperial Russia) suffuses this book with the rich aroma of a language whose every word can take on a paragraph or even chapter of meaning in the hands of the right speaker. Chabon is one such speaker (or writer) and "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is a book that is rich in enjoyment.

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is an artful blend of genres, a blend of crime fiction and alternate history. I think of it as a blend of Dashiell Hammett's dark crime stories like "Red Harvest" and Philip Roth's alternate-history novel "The Plot Against America".

Chabon has created a world in which there is no Israel. Rather, Israel had been crushed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Since that time the United States, partly as a result of guilt over the Holocaust has created a temporary homeland for displaced European Jews in and around Sitka, Alaska. Yiddish, not Hebrew, is the primary language. As the book opens, close to 60-years after the end of Israel, Sitka is due to revert back to U.S. control and the million or so inhabitants face the prospect of being stateless refugees. The hero, or protagonist, is Detective Meyer Landsman.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been reading Chabon since I first picked up "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" over a decade-and-a-half ago, and it's been fun seeing his writing evolve with each new work. I believe that "Kavalier and Clay" is one of the best American novels of the past ten years, and that's not even because I'm such a comic book fan; it's just an extraordinary novel on many levels. When I heard of the concept of "Yiddish Policemen's Union," I was worried that it sounded a bit too high concept; then I considered that Chabon is such a great writer that I'll forgive him for anything - even his recent "Simpson's" voiceover where he and Jonathan Franzen got into a fistfight. Luckily, no forgiveness needs to be granted (like Chabon couldn't care less anyhow; who am I in the Kakutani-era of literary criticism?) Chabon's newest novel is just further confirmation of his skill.

This book is unique as it's not a speculative novel masquerading as Jewish noir, nor is it noir with a glossy veneer: it's everything at once. The questions of Jewish identity and what will happen to the community once the Reversion happens never takes away from the main tale; it's so well tucked in with the main action that Chabon never goes off on a tangent. All the while, Chabon plows ahead with a mystery that will set off chuckles of recognition as he hits and bounces upon every noir convention like a pinball. Informers, grieving mothers, loyal partners, the obligatory moment when an unconnected crime enters the frame - it's all there, but with its overlay of the Jewish community in the north, it feels fresh.

A few reviewers have commented that they missed out on Jewish in-jokes.
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Format: Hardcover
What can you say about a book like this? Not much without giving something away. It's audacious as can be believed. What's it about? Read the Publisher's Weekly blurb above. Or, better yet, don't.

Chabon is a genius and a madman, a wizard and a mensch. He's a wrecking crew, a culture-blender, and a rebbe packing heat. Who else would, or could, take Nick Charles and put him in Shalom Shachna's body? (Or maybe it's the other way around.) Equal parts Kabbalah and Ka-Bar, it's funny and gripping, and entertaining, and so heartbreaking at times it's hard to breathe.

In sum, I found it extraordinary - the concept, the language, the characters and the plot. It's not perfect, but it is simply one of the best novels I've read in a decade. Is that "helpful"? I doubt it. If I were you, I wouldn't want to know more. Spoilers are odious, irrelevant, and available elsewhere. If you love Chandler, Hammett, Roth, and I.B. Singer, I suspect you will love this.

Put some Manischewitz in a lowball and sit by the electric fire and crack this book open.
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Format: Hardcover
Welcome to Alaska, the temporary home of a large Jewish colony now on the edge of repatriation. Chabon has set his sights high, again, but this time there seem to be so many pieces to put in place, so many portraits to paint in his newly formed universe, that at times the book feels more like a heavy wade than a pleasure. Sure, we all know Chabon can write his contemporaries off the page, but I have the feeling this will be remembered as a novel that landed just wide of the target. If you're going to play with a genre like mystery, you take on not just machinations of plot, but also of pacing and that's my main gripe despite the gorgeous prose. After 150 pages of a mystery, you'd usually like to know more than that the story revolves around the body of a former chess player. It's hard to think of a writer with Chabon's skill doing anything that isn't deliberate, but just because he sets his new world in Alaska, did it have to move at such a glacial rate?
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