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The Yiddish Policemen's Union


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The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
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Michael Chabon rightfully won the Pulitzer in 2001 for ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’. That was a wonderful story and contained crafted, as well clever, writing. Moreover, it had a story that drew in the reader and made the characters (whatever their flaws) understandable, relatable and plausible. In ‘The Yiddish Policemen's Union’, unfortunately, much of the storyline is not quite polished – one gets the feeling that Chabon himself may not have really thought out where Meyer Landsman – the detective policeman who may be an homage to film noire (or not, couldn't quite work it out) – was going either. The lead's supporting characters are even more sketches: the cousin who is conflicted as to his identity (a key theme hitting every character, but Berko more than most – or not), the firey ex-wife who becomes Landsman's boss, the Messiah who doesn't really want to be the Messiah (‘Life of Brian’ anyone-), a cavalcade of archetypes. But here's a feeling that you're missing out on something, and you're not sure what. Perhaps this has to do with Chabon's frequent use of Yiddish expressions that, although might be justified in terms of the cultural milieu Chabon created, leave someone non-conversant in Yiddish and eastern European Hebrew culture thinking – Is that important, did I miss something there- Is there a joke, a clue, a signpost in those words and phrases- Could be. Of course you can, and I did, read the story of Meyer Landsman pretty much as is, and didn't fret too much over my ignorance of Jewish culture and language. And, as far as writing goes, Chabon is very, very good indeed. So good, in fact, that I don't think he needs to write something which almost sneers at the reader ‘I'm good. I'm really good. Let me baffle and bemuse you by showing you how good I am.’ And that's the core of it. I couldn't wait to read ‘Yiddish Policemen's Union’, and one has to agree with ‘The Guardian's’ assessment of Chabon as ‘smart and sassy’. He's smart, he's sassy; the story, not so much.

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.


The brilliantly original new novel from Michael Chabon, author of 'The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay' and 'The Final Solution'. What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska -- and not Israel -- had become the homeland for the Jews after World War II? In Michael Chabon's Yiddish-speaking 'Alyeska', Orthodox gangs in side-curls and knee breeches roam the streets of Sitka, where Detective Meyer Landsman discovers the corpse of a heroin-addled chess prodigy in the flophouse Meyer calls home. Marionette strings stretch back to the hands of charismatic Rebbe Gold, leader of a sect that seems to have drawn its mission statement from the Cosa Nostra -- but behind Rebbe looms an even larger shadow. Despite sensible protests from Berko, his half-Tlingit, half-Jewish partner, Meyer is determined to unsnarl the meaning behind the murder. Even if that means surrendering his badge and his dignity to the chief of Sitka's homicide unit -- also known as his fearsome ex-wife, Bina. 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union' interweaves a homage to the stylish menace of 1940s film noir with a bittersweet fable of identity, home and faith.It is a novel of colossal ambition and heart from one of the most important and beloved writers working today.


Hugo Award Winner 2008
Nebula Award Winner 2008
Locus (SF) Award Winner 2008


'His almost ecstatically smart and sassy new novel. Chabon is a spectacular writer[and] is a language magician, turning everything into something else just for the delight of playing tricks with words. Chabon's ornate prose makes [Raymond] Chandler's fruity observations of the world look quite plain, He writes like a dream and has you laughing out loud, applauding the fun he has with language and the way he takes the task of a writer and runs delighted rings around it.' Guardian

'Michael Chabon's brilliant new novel starts with a bang!It hums with humour. It buzzes with gags. Superb images also team in this long novel: the accumulated reading experience is one of admiration, close to awe, at the vigour of Chabon's imagination!a hilarious, antic whirl of a novel.' Sunday Times

'Chabon has written such a dazzling, individual, hyperconfident novel that it's tough to work out who wouldn't have fun reading it. If the thriller plot doesn't get you (and it's easily the equal of any detective story in the past five years) then the exuberant style and the sackfuls of great jokes will! Whichever way you cut it, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is pure narrative pleasure, high-class stuff from cover to cover. Only a shmendrik would pass it up.' Independent on Sunday

'A first rate noir novel always works on the premise that everyone has secrets; that we all apply veneers in our dealings with others, and that guilt is an omnipresent force in human interaction. "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" certainly plays by these rules. Chabon has brilliant fun with his Jewish-Alaska construct and its cultural disconnections. Besides being a fantastic crash-course in Yiddishisms, the novel never sins against its own splendidly absurd conceit by becoming overtly showy or pleased with its considerable brilliance.' The Times

'It's Raymond Chandler meets Speilberg's "Munich", via Haruki Murakami.' Time Out

'His talent is undisputable. Chabon's novels are warm, witty, a little whimsical, always beautifully written. He is that rare and precious beast: a literary writer with crossover appeal and a proper engagement with the demotic. Funny, touching and compelling, the novel transcends the limitations of all its genres -- which is pretty much Chabon's MO - a stunning achievement.' GQ

'Chabon has taken flak in the past from US critics aghast that someone who has so much literary weight can be so entertaining. If so, the talent he shows in this ambitious tale will have them burning his effigy in every branch of Borders.' Sunday Telegraph

Author Biography

Michael Chabon is the author of two collections of stories for adults, 'A Model World' and 'Werewolves in their Youth'; a children's book, 'Summerland'; the novels 'The Mysteries of Pittsburgh', 'Wonder Boys' (which has been made into a film) and 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay' (winner of the Pulitzer Prize); and the short story 'The Final Solution'. He co-wrote the screenplay for Spiderman 2. His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire and Playboy. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their four children.
Release date NZ
March 3rd, 2008
Country of Publication
United Kingdom
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