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The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Set in the Jewish homeland of … Alaska, this is a brilliantly original novel

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Set in the Jewish homeland of … Alaska, this is a brilliantly original novel from Michael Chabon, author of THE ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY and WONDER BOYS.

What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska – and not Israel – had become the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War? In Michael Chabon’s Yiddish-speaking ‘Alyeska’, Orthodox gangs in side-curls and knee breeches roam the streets of Sitka, where Detective Meyer Landsman discovers the corpse of a heroin-addled chess prodigy in the flophouse Meyer calls home.

Marionette strings stretch back to the hands of charismatic Rebbe Gold, leader of a sect that seems to have drawn its mission statement from the Cosa Nostra. Meyer is determined to unsnarl the meaning behind the murder. Even if that means surrendering his badge and his dignity to the chief of Sitka’s homicide unit – his fearsome ex-wife Bina.

A novel of colossal ambition and heart, THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION interweaves a homage to the stylish menace of 1940s film noir with a bittersweet fable of identity, home and faith.

free books for kindleThe Yiddish Policemen's Union (fiction)
Michael Chabon (Author)
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Print List Price: £8.99
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Reviews from Amazon:

The novel supposes that in 1940 the American Congress had passed the Sitka Settlement Act to allow the persecuted Jews of Europe to seek refuge, for an interim period of sixty years, in the newly created autonomous `federal district' of Sitka on Baranof Island, which my atlas tells me is a narrow sliver, about 100 miles long and 25 miles wide, in the south-eastern tail of Alaska. But it was a kind of ghetto: to appease the American public, the Act prohibited the refugees from moving off the island. 

A trickle of Jews, mainly from Germany and Poland, are supposed to have arrived there soon afterwards, to be joined after the war by a flood of Displaced Persons and other Jews who could not go to Israel, because that state is supposed to have been snuffed out by the Arabs after only three months. After the sixty years were up, Sitka was to `revert' to become part of Alaska and the Jews of Sitka were supposed to find somewhere else to go. 

By that time Sitka had a population of two million and had acquired a thoroughly Yiddish character, with Yiddish names for shops, districts and public buildings, Yiddish (secular) cops and Yiddish (religious) gangsters - all to the resentment of the original inhabitants of the area, the Tlingit Indian tribe. The book opens as the date of the `Reversion' draws near.

Meyer Landsman is a Yiddish police detective who has not been very effective in the past and now has to solve a murder. That genre is not unfamiliar, nor, especially in American fiction, is the laconic dialogue. But here the text is sprinkled with Yiddish words, whose meaning the non-Yiddish speaker can usually, but not always, work out. Yiddish has many wonderful curses, but sometimes only American four letter words will do. 

The humour has a Yiddish flavour, and the author's own English is full of wisecracks and of immensely inventive and vivid similes. The setting - especially among the ultra-orthodox `black hats' - is very atmospheric.
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