Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon was originally published in 2007. My hardcover copy has 414 pages. Chabon seems to be a writer that polarizes people - it's either love or dislike. I happen to think he's brilliant. The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a seemingly classic noir detective novel, only it's combined with alternate history, oh and the characters are mostly Jewish or Tlinget. The world The Yiddish Policemen's Union creates is complete, it needs no editing, no further explanations... and I'm struggling with what else to say about such a well written and brilliantly executed novel. Very highly recommended with a rating of 5.

Synopsis from cover:

For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.

But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage—and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

"Nine months Landsman's been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered." first sentence

"According to doctors, therapists, and his ex-wife, Landsman drinks to medicate himself, tuning the tubes and crystals of his moods with a crude hammer of hundred-proof plum brandy. But the truth is that Landsman has only two moods: working and dead." pg. 2

"Just to spite himself, because spiting himself, spiting others, spiting the world is the only pastime and only patrimony of Landsman and his people." pg. 11

"Last February five hundred witnesses all up and down the District swore that in the shimmer of the aurora borealis, for two nights running, they observed the outlines of a human face, with beard and sidelocks. Violent arguments broke out over the identity of the bearded sage in the sky, whether of not the face was smiling (or merely suffering from a mild attack of gas), and the meaning of the weird manifestation." pg. 13

" 'Your father played chess,' Hertz Shemets once said, 'like a man with a toothache, a hemorrhoid, and gas.' " pg. 31

" 'Evergreen and with the sap of their original violence they remain'
Brennan studied German in college and learned his Yiddish from some pompous old German at the institute, and he talks, somebody once remarked, 'like a sausage recipe with footnotes' " pg. 84

"They were both past the age of foolish passion, so they wee passionate without being fools." pg. 120

"It would require the brain strength of the eighteen greatest sages in history to reason through the arguments against and in favor of classifying the rebbe's massive bottom as either a creature of the deep, a man-made structure, or an unavoidable act of God. If he stands up or sits down, it doesn't make any difference in what you see." pg. 135

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