Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

This is a murder mystery steeped in the colloquialisms of a "what if" world.

In 1938 Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, proposed offering Alaska as a haven for Jewish refugees from Germany and all of Europe which would by-pass normal immigration laws. Alaska was not part of the US at the time and so could be considered a good location for an exception such as this. The proposal was voted down in Congress and it never happened. This book operates on the assumption that it did. It is 40 years after the first wave of immigrants and the Jews must apply for citizenship of the US or figure out someplace else to go.

On the eve of the "Reversion", an unknown man is killed in the seedy hotel where our detective lives. All members of the cast are Jewish with varying degrees of faith and dedication to the religion and orthodoxy. Despite being told the case has been officially classified as a "cold case" the detective can't let it go. He and his partner delve into the closed world of the "black hats" to uncover the identity of the dead man and finally that of his killer.

I didn't notice that there was a Yiddish glossary at the end until I was finished with the book. It probably wouldn't have made it a faster read because most of the words used were self-explanatory based on usage in the sentence. The dialogue was not only full of Yiddish but the kind of slang that you really only hear on cop shows or pulp novels.

I enjoyed this book. It is a good mystery / detective story plus you get a fair back story on the principles and their messed up lives and addictions. You also get a small look into the world of Chassids. My copy of the book had a story from the New York Times about the book as well which offered some insight into how much of the story was real information and how much was fiction. The story was woven with such detail that, until I finished the book, I had no idea that there hadn't been a Jewish settlement in Alaska.

I have also read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by the same author and enjoyed it as well. His books are not fast reads but they are worth the effort. I will definitely put other books by him on my list of books to read.

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