The Yiddish Policemen's Union

I’ve just finished reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. It is my favorite of the Michael Chabon novels I’ve read, which is saying something (I’ve yet to read Wonder Boys, by the way). The opening paragraph sets the tone wonderfully.

Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered. Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.

That Landsman is a detective establishes one genre for the novel. That it is set in an alternate universe establishes another; indeed, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union captured both of the major science fiction awards.

I found myself torn between lingering to enjoy the writing, and racing on to find out what happens – and what happened, since this is a fine example of suspense looking back as well as forwards in time. I don’t just mean that we want to know who killed the dead yid.

We want to know how detective Landsman got into the state he’s in: living in a crummy hotel is not the worst of it. We are also interested in the part of the state of Alaska he and many other Jews are in, and the alternate universe of which it’s a part. That said, I still found the writing itself, both narrative and dialog, the most interesting thing of all.

I recommend, not just the novel, but also the book. I like the trade paperback for the cover by Will Staehle, the included NYT article on Chabon and YPU and piece by Chabon on writing YPU, and for other things as well as the text itself. You can find the NYT article online, and may well be able to find everything else online, but a good book is a great thing, and this may well be a great book.

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