Sunday, March 08, 2009

23. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Book-Around-the States- Challenge
Other than the fact that this book takes place in Sitka, Alaska; there is very little tie-in to the state at all. I should have used that last Dana Stabenow book as my Alaska read, but I'm too lazy to change things now.

Publisher's Weekly describes this book as "a murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller." It's very interesting how Chabon ties all these elements together. I will try to summarize this novel as briefly as possible: Back in 1948, FDR proposed Sitka as an alternative site for the displaced Jews. This book takes the notion that the Jews were driven out of Israel and settled in Sitka on a temporary basis. Sixty years later, The U.S. is about to displace them again. In this period of unease, a young man is discovered with a bullet to the back of his head; and Meyer Landsman, a drunken, divorced homicide detective tries to solve the case. There are very few clues other than an unfinished chess game. Landsman breaks all kinds of rules trying to get answers causing all kinds of grief for his boss who happens to also be his ex-wife. It's pretty ingenious and more than a little convoluted how Chabon works all this intrigue into the final who-dunnit-scene.

I had a really hard time getting into this book. Landsman is not a very likeable person, a disaster waiting to happen. He is surrounded by all kinds of depressing sorts. Even the landscape and weather seem depressing. Plus the book is written in the present tense which is always hard for me. There were all kinds of Yiddish terms and cultures that I didn't understand. And I don't really care for chess. But this was my Alaska book, so I stuck with it. Eventually I found myself interested in the story of the victim as well as Landsman's story. Even the chess elements were interesting. I got used to the tense which probably helped differentiate between the histories of the characters and the ongoing story itself. And Landsman, though a depressed, self-destructive, crazy man, has a certain amount of integrity and begins to redeems himself. I didn't care for the profanity and found the story a little over-the-top; but Chabon's descriptions were wonderful. I love an author who can evoke so much atmosphere with so few words. I can't say I loved this book, but if someone told me about another book he had written with a better storyline, I would be sure to give it a try.

Rating: 3.5


  1. Have you read the Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay? It has an amazing plot (although it does suffer from a slow bit in the middle) It is the only book by Chabon I've read, and so was looking forward to reading his others. I'm disappointed that you didn't like this one - I was hoping they'd all be great.

  2. I really must give Chabon a try some time. My husband says Cavalier and Klay is one of his favourite books of all time.

  3. I also recommend Cavalier and Klay. LOVED that book.

  4. Hmmmm... Doesn't sound all that great.

  5. I felt the same way you did after I first read the book. Now I find myself (at least a year later) thinking about "scenes" from the book on occasion. I'm pretty sure I'll like it a lot more the second time through.

    I'll also add my recommendation of Kavalier & Clay too!

  6. Hmmmmm... I've had this book on my TBR list for quite some time, but I don't think I'll be in a hurry to read it. I find myself most often scrapping those books that have an unlikeable main character. Great review!

  7. I saw the author at a conference last year where he discussed this book, and he is an edgy, over-the-top personality, which obviously came through to you in this book. But the topic of his discussion was faith and writing, and he is a very thoughtful and reflective person. I have a feeling that if you stick with him, you'll find more to like in his other books.

    Thanks for the review!