Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a ground-breaking alternate history novel that was released in 2007. Combining the best of alternate history story telling and hardboiled detective fiction, it's a bit like Harry Turtledove meets Raymond Chandler.

Description of Meyer Landsman:
He has the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker. When there is crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket. It's like there's a film score playing behind him, heavy on the castanets. The problem comes in the hours when he isn't working, when his thoughts start blowing out the open window of his brain like pages from a blotter. Sometimes it takes a heavy paperweight to pin them down.

Chabon asks what if the Jewish state of Isreal never gained a foothold in the Middle East in 1948? What if, instead the Jewish refugees from the Second World War found sanctuary in the most unlikely quarters - Sitka, Alaska?

The novel opens with the imminent threat of the 'Reversion' of the Sitka settlement to the U.S. and the displacement of the Jewish settlers to points unknown after building a culture and a community for 60 years.

Meyer Landsman, an alcoholic homicide detective at the end of his rope, finds himself investigating the murder of a John Doe in the Zamenhof, the rundown hotel that Landsman calls home. As Landsman begins to unravel the identity of the murder victim with the aid of his partner and cousin, Berko Shemets, they find that a number of people don't want the murder solved including Landsman's superior officer and ex-wife Bina Gelbfish. Bina has the unpleasant task of informing Landsman and Shemets that the squad has been ordered to solve all cases or declare them unsolvable before Reversion occurs in two months time.

Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and numerous other accolades the novel is well worth the read.

You can check out my full review here - Andy's Anachronisms review of Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon


  1. I know you read this a while back, but I'm curious: what's the history of the Tlingit in this timeline? Does the book have much detail about that?

    Also, any mention of whether the U.S. relocated and interned the Aleut during WWII?

  2. No I don't recall the book getting into the history of the Tlingit in too much detail. That isn't to say they don't play an significant role in the book, but its mainly told with Landsman, the Jewish detective, as the main character so things are filtered through his world perspective.

    They do reference the Tlingit's fight with the Russians in the 1800s. They seem to be the dominant force around Sitka in the novel and have no love for the Jewish refugees. At some point I think they reference that there are 30,000 or 40,000 Tlingit's living in the surrounding area.

    Sorry can't be of more help.

  3. Oh and I forgot to mention Landsman's partner is half-Tlingit and his heritage does play a role in the novel.

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