Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Book Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon

I first read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union back in 2007 and it’s one of those books I’ve wanted to review for this blog since I first began writing these posts. It’s one of those big cinematic books that you can easily curl up with, filled with of deep exposition, flawed characters, and of course, action – set against a believable backdrop where the infant State of Israel died almost as soon as it was born in 1948.

Like the best in alternate history, Chabon's book has its basis in fact – a proposal in 1940 by then Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to open up the Alaska Territory to immigration by European Jews. In our timeline, nothing came of it, but in Chabon’s deeply contextualized and believable alternate history, the newly designated Federal District of Sitka becomes a refuge for the Jewish dispora.

But there is a catch, as always. The District is a temporary creature, meant to last only to 2008, when it will revert to the State of Alaska, much like Hong Kong did to China in 1997 in our history. As the book opens, the reversion is months away and uncertainty and fear grip the people of Sitka, with many looking to get out before the axe falls.

It’s into this background of decay and fear that we find Sitka homicide detective Meyer Landsman called in to investigate a murder in a skid-row hotel.  Landsman is in the tradition of the best of the hard-boiled detectives, but he also carries a deeply sensitive and vulnerable side.  As he works his way through a case full of crosses and double crosses, he is aided and foiled by deftly-drawn characters, including Landsman’s sardonic ex-wife, Landman's fellow cop partner, who is only that much more hardboiled than he is, and a sect of fanatics that has never forgotten the events of 1948. 

This book is definitely worth the time invested. If you like Chabon’s previous works such as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (a homage to the golden age of comic books) and if you like rich alternate universes, you’ll love The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   Thanks.