Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #02 – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon


“It never takes longer than a few minutes, when they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That’s what a family is. Also the storm at sea, the ship, and the unknown shore. And the hats and the whiskey stills that you make out of bamboo and coconuts. And the fire that you light to keep away the beasts.”

     I’d seen The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon, on a few best-of lists this past year, so I finally snagged a copy. Let me say, I really loved this book. I’ve never read anything else by Chabon, but if Union is indicative of his writing style, I will definitely seek out more of his work. His narration and descriptions are incredibly funny, but the story itself is really very dark. Rather than feeling jarring to the reader, this combination delighted me.
     The Yiddish Policeman’s Union takes place in an alternate history–sixty years ago, Jewish refugees from Europe created homes in the Federal District of Sitka, which was opened by the U.S. government during the Holocaust. When the book opens, the descendants of these refugees find themselves a couple months away from the reversion of their state to Alaskan control, leaving their futures open and unknown. For our protagonist, Meyer Landsman, this means his job as a police detective is in jeopardy. He and his partner (a half-Jewish, half-Tlingit man named Berko who I just adored) have just weeks to clear their old cases before their department is shut down. Meyer also recently got divorced from a fantastically kick-ass woman (best line about his ex: “When some drunken fool asked if she was a lesbian, she would say, ‘In everything but sexual preference’.”) and she just took over his boss’s job. A heroin junkie was murdered in his hotel, there’s rumors of the return of the Messiah, and Meyer spends most of the book battling a hangover. Quite a few storylines, but everything ends up tangled together, then sorted out, in the end.
     Like I said, I really enjoyed this book. Meyer and Berko’s buddy cop act, Meyer’s flirty antagonism with his wife, and the colorful cast of Jewish and Alaskan natives were extremely entertaining. The alternate timeline really just provides a backdrop to the story, but does lead to some interesting changes to American history. Some of the plotlines have some darkness to them, but this is offset by Chabon’s writing. It’s funny, and sad, and wonderful all in one. I would highly recommend it.

3 thoughts on “Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #02 – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

  1. I picked this up with my Christmas gift cards. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about it but I mixed one Chabon (loved The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, liked Wonderboys though I’d seen the movie first, and just didn’t like The Mysteries of Pittsburgh). Hopefully, I’ll finish the book I’m reading now someday and be able to get around to this.

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