Michael Chabon has created another masterpiece with “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” his most recent novel. While his other books were beautifully written, I found some of them difficult to get through. That was not the case with this book, which moves more quickly than Kavalier and Clay, and kept me interested throughout.
With this book Chabon creates a world in which Roosevelt’s suggestion to move displaced Jews to Alaska after World War II has been put in place. The only problem is Roosevelt included a move-out date for the Jews in order to get the legislation through, and that date is quickly approaching. While the other Jews in Sitka are preparing their paperwork to move abroad, or are applying for visas to stay within the United States, Meyer Landsman is busy trying to beat the clock on a murder that took place in the hotel where he lives.
In addition to the murder case, Landsman is haunted by a number of other ghosts, including the suicide death of his father, an unborn child, a possibly murdered pilot sister and the memory of his failed marriage. He spends much of the novel battling a drinking problem, which gets him into some interesting, if not painful, predicaments. His counterpart in the book is his partner and cousin, Berko Shemets, a half-Jew, half-Tlingit bear of a man.
Shemets plays the part of the level-headed friend in the book. He is also envied by Landsman for his ever-growing family. Shemets is dealing with his own battles throughout the book, while trying to keep Landsman from being kicked off the police force. He ends up being one of my favorite characters, with Landsman’s ex-wife (and boss) being one of the other great characters of the book. The relationships between the characters makes the book an enjoyable, and sometimes uncomfortable, read.
The book has plenty of twists and turns, including a weird chess obsession, and kept me guessing until the end. Perhaps if I knew more about Jewish culture I would have figured it out before the end. But lacking that, this was the first mystery book I’ve read that I wasn’t able to figure out before the punchline.
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