2007 – “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon

About a year ago or so I wandered into my local independent bookshop Read in Holmfirth (see their website here). It’s a small shop but crammed with books and makes a feature of recommendations. As I had a bit of money to spend and an urge to read something new I asked what the bookseller would recommend and he suggested The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. I thought that the premise sounded interesting but in the end I decided to purchase Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan which was also recommended to me and which I enjoyed. I have been meaning to catch up with this book ever since and my 60 Books from 60 Years challenge was the obvious opportunity.

Imagine if instead of a new homeland for the Jews being created in Israel after WW2 the Allied powers offered Alaska instead. This book assumes a new Jewish state in Alaska and that Jewish people have been settled there for sixty years. Now the end of that arrangement is approaching and Alaska is returning to American ownership. Everything is unsettled and each individual is trying to decide what to do. When a man is murdered in the same hotel that Detective Meyer Landsman calls home he is determined to find the killer even if no one else is at all bothered.

Meyer is an alcoholic with a broken marriage. He and his partner, a cousin, have to immerse themselves in different aspects of Judaism in order to find out what has happened. It’s a complex story which touches on Landsman’s past and the death of his sister. It’s further complicated when he is ordered not to investigate further and the senior officer in charge of the case is his ex-wife.

This is a story told in the Raymond Chandler style although, in my opinion, without his lightness of touch. It’s full of Jewish slang and words which add to the atmosphere and there are frequent references to chess which escaped me as I know little about the game. It’s a very unusual idea although not quite as improbable as you might think (remember that Hitler initially intended to send all the Jews to Madagascar). The problem is that the end result is just not as compelling as I wish it had been. I wanted to like this book more and I did admire what the author had done but I found it very easy to put it down and harder to take it back up again. Had I not been reading it for my challenge I would probably have given up on it. It’s a great idea but the book just didn’t hold my interest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s