Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION: Michael Chabon: HarperCollins: Fiction: 411pp.

Meyer Landsman is a detective in the Federal State of Sitka, the temporary Jewish state founded in Alaska after World War II in Michael Chabon's alternate history, mystery novel, and meditation on religion, race. Landsman leaps into action on page one when the proprietor of the flophouse where he lives finds a body in room 208. In his search to discover the young man's identity and to identify his murderer, Landsman runs into and afoul of homicidal Hasids, chess prodigies, Zimbalist the boundary maven, and the FBI, not to mention his ex-wife who has suddenly become his boss. In steady counterpoint to the machinations of the case itself runs the fact that after 60 years, the Alaskan homeland of the Jews will revert to the United States and there is nowhere left to go. Chabon observes all the conventions of the hard-boiled detective novel, including a wealth of the strained but apt metaphors peculiar to that genre, though The Yiddish Policemen's Union transcends those bounds to become a peculiar treasure of contemporary fiction. (Word to the wise: some profanity of both sorts)


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