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The Yiddish Policemen's Union
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The Yiddish Policemen's Union

3.7 129
by Michael Chabon

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The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—an excellent, hyperliterate, genre-pantsing detective novel that deserves every inch of its…blockbuster superfame” (New York).

For sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven


The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—an excellent, hyperliterate, genre-pantsing detective novel that deserves every inch of its…blockbuster superfame” (New York).

For sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.

Homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

Editorial Reviews

The starting premise of Michael Chabon's novel rests on a single historical factoid: On the eve of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested that European Jewish refugees be resettled in the Alaskan territory. From this tiny nugget, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist constructs a richly hued noir alternate history/mystery fable, complete with Yiddish jargon and gangster argot.
Michiko Kakutani
Mr. Chabon’s latest novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, builds upon the achievement of Kavalier & Clay, creating a completely fictional world that is as persuasively detailed as his re-creation of 1940s New York in that earlier book, even as it gives the reader a gripping murder mystery and one of the most appealing detective heroes to come along since Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
— The New York Times
Elizabeth McCracken
The moving, shopworn whiz-bang of historical visions of the future -- world's fairs, Esperanto, a belief that the Jews of the world will stop wandering and find a peaceful home somewhere on the planet -- Chabon loves, buries and mourns these visions as beautiful but too fragile to live. The future will always be a fata morgana. In this strange and breathtaking novel, the wise, unhappy man settles for closer comforts. As Landsman says, toward the end of the book, "My homeland is in my hat."
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Chabon's storytelling, in this alternate history of a world where Jews were settled in Alaska after World War II, is vivid enough, with inventive metaphors packed in like tapestry threads, but Peter Riegert's versatile voice makes the invented society even more tangible. Told through the eyes of Meyer Landsman, a police detective investigating a murder, the novel occurs in a "strange time to be a Jew," as several characters ruefully put it: the special Jewish district will soon be controlled by Alaska again. In a bonus interview on the last disc, Chabon relates his desire to write about a place where Yiddish was an official language. The book is shot through with Yiddish phrases and names, which melodically roll off Riegert's tongue. He gives Landsman and his tough but warmhearted partner Berko similar yet distinct gruff voices that contrast well with the effeminate-sounding sect leader and the Southern-accented Americans who come to start the land reversion process. Riegert's pacing increases the enjoyment of this expertly spun mystery. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 5). (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

What's washed-up cop Meyer Landsman to do when a heroin-addicted, chess-crazed denizen of the dump where he lives gets plugged in the head? He's going to find the killer, and to that end he calls in his partner (and cousin) Berko Shemets, a bear of a man who's also half-Tlingit because, you see, this is…Alaska? In this wildly inventive blackest of black comedies, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) imagines that after World War II Roosevelt decreed the yet-to-be-50th state the homeland of the Jews. Years have passed, and the Jews have settled in very nicely, thank you, re-creating the aura of the Mitteleuropa they've lost—though the black-hatted, ultra-orthodox Bobovers turn out to be real thugs. The meddling of our two boys leads them straight to powerful and dangerous Bobover leader Rebbe Gold and eventually to a plot aimed at the reclamation of Israel. It also leads them into plenty of hot water with the top brass, including their new boss—Meyer's ex-wife, Bina. Raucous, acidulous, decidedly impolite, yet stylistically arresting, this book is bloody brilliant—and if it's way over the top, that's what makes Chabon such a great writer. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/07.]
—Barbara Hoffert

Kirkus Reviews
Imagine a mutant strain of Dashiell Hammett crossed with Isaac Bashevis Singer, as one of the most imaginative contemporary novelists extends his fascination with classic pulp. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, 2000, etc.) returns with an alternate-history novel that succeeds as both a hardboiled detective story and a softhearted romance. In the aftermath of World War II, a Jewish homeland has been established in Alaska rather than Israel. Amid the mean streets of Sitka, the major city, Detective Meyer Landsman lives in a seedy flophouse, where alcohol has dulled his investigative instincts. His marriage to his beloved Bina couldn't survive an aborted pregnancy, after tests showed the possibility of birth defects. He also hasn't gotten over the death of his younger sister, a pilot whose plane crashed. He finds his sense of mission renewed when there's a murder in the hotel where he lives. The deceased was a heroin-addicted chess player, his slaying seemingly without motive. There's an urgency to Landsman's investigation, because the Promised Land established by the Alaskan Settlement Act is only a 50-year rental, with Jews expected to go elsewhere when the "Reversion" takes place two months hence. Thus, Landsman must solve the case before he loses his job and his home, a challenge complicated by the reappearance of his ex-wife, appointed chief of police during this transition before the Reversion. In her attempts to leave a clean slate, will she help her former husband or thwart him? Adding to the intrigue are a cult of extremists led by a gangster rabbi, a possibility that the death of Landsman's sister wasn't an accident and a conspiracy ledby the U.S. government. "These are strange times to be a Jew," say various characters, like a Greek chorus, though the novel suggests that all times are strange times to be a Jew. A page-turning noir, with a twist of Yiddish, that satisfies on many levels.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.04(d)

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The Yiddish Policemen's Union LP

Chapter One

Nine months Landsman's been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered. Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.

"He didn't answer the phone, he wouldn't open his door," says Tenenboym the night manager when he comes to roust Landsman. Landsman lives in 505, with a view of the neon sign on the hotel across Max Nordau Street. That one is called the Blackpool, a word that figures in Landsman's nightmares. "I had to let myself into his room."

The night manager is a former U.S. Marine who kicked a heroin habit of his own back in the sixties, after coming home from the shambles of the Cuban war. He takes a motherly interest in the user population of the Zamenhof. He extends credit to them and sees that they are left alone when that is what they need.

"Did you touch anything in the room?" Landsman says.

Tenenboym says, "Only the cash and jewelry."

Landsman puts on his trousers and shoes and hitches up his suspenders. Then he and Tenenboym turn to look at the doorknob, where a necktie hangs, red with a fat maroon stripe, already knotted to save time. Landsman has eight hours to go until his next shift. Eight rat hours, sucking at his bottle, in his glass tank lined with wood shavings. Landsman sighs and goes for the tie. He slides it over his head and pushes up the knot to his collar. He puts on his jacket, feels for the wallet and shield in the breast pocket, pats the sholem he wears in a holster under his arm, a chopped Smith & WessonModel 39.

"I hate to wake you, Detective," Tenenboym says. "Only I noticed that you don't really sleep."

"I sleep," Landsman says. He picks up the shot glass that he is currently dating, a souvenir of the World's Fair of 1977. "It's just I do it in my underpants and shirt." He lifts the glass and toasts the thirty years gone since the Sitka World's Fair. A pinnacle of Jewish civilization in the north, people say, and who is he to argue? Meyer Landsman was fourteen that summer, and just discovering the glories of Jewish women, for whom 1977 must have been some kind of a pinnacle. "Sitting up in a chair." He drains the glass. "Wearing a sholem."

According to doctors, therapists, and his ex-wife, Landsman drinks to medicate himself, tuning the tubes and crystals of his moods with a crude hammer of hundred-proof plum brandy. But the truth is that Landsman has only two moods: working and dead. Meyer Landsman is the most decorated shammes in the District of Sitka, the man who solved the murder of the beautiful Froma Lefkowitz by her furrier husband, and caught Podolsky the Hospital Killer. His testimony sent Hyman Tsharny to federal prison for life, the first and last time that criminal charges against a Verbover wiseguy have ever been made to stick. He has the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker. When there is crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket. It's like there's a film score playing behind him, heavy on the castanets. The problem comes in the hours when he isn't working, when his thoughts start blowing out the open window of his brain like pages from a blotter. Sometimes it takes a heavy paperweight to pin them down.

"I hate to make more work for you," Tenenboym says.

During his days working Narcotics, Landsman arrested Tenenboym five times. That is all the basis for what passes for friendship between them. It is almost enough.

"It's not work, Tenenboym," Landsman says. "I do it for love."

"It's the same for me," the night manager says. "With being a night manager of a crap-ass hotel."

Landsman puts his hand on Tenenboym's shoulder, and they go down to take stock of the deceased, squeezing into the Zamenhof's lone elevator, or elevatoro, as a small brass plate over the door would have it. When the hotel was built fifty years ago, all of its directional signs, labels, notices, and warnings were printed on brass plates in Esperanto. Most of them are long gone, victims of neglect, vandalism, or the fire code.

The door and door frame of 208 do not exhibit signs of forced entry. Landsman covers the knob with his handkerchief and nudges the door open with the toe of his loafer.

"I got this funny feeling," Tenenboym says as he follows Landsman into the room. "First time I ever saw the guy. You know the expression 'a broken man'?"

Landsman allows that the phrase rings a bell.

"Most of the people it gets applied to don't really deserve it," Tenenboym says. "Most men, in my opinion, they have nothing there to break in the first place. But this Lasker. He was like one of those sticks you snap, it lights up. You know? For a few hours. And you can hear broken glass rattling inside of it. I don't know, forget it. It was just a funny feeling."

"Everybody has a funny feeling these days," Landsman says, making a few notes in his little black pad about the situation of the room, even though such notes are superfluous, because he rarely forgets a detail of physical description. Landsman has been told, by the same loose confederacy of physicians, psychologists, and his former spouse, that alcohol will kill his gift for recollection, but so far, to his regret, this claim has proved false. His vision of the past remains unimpaired. "We had to open a separate phone line just to handle the calls."

"These are strange times to be a Jew," Tenenboym agrees. "No doubt about it."

The Yiddish Policemen's Union LP. Copyright © by Michael Chabon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Moonglow and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, among many others. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.

Brief Biography

Berkeley, California
Date of Birth:
May 24, 1963
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., University of Pittsburgh; M.F.A., University of California at Irvine

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Yiddish Policemen's Union 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 126 reviews.
Juliep More than 1 year ago
I almost abandoned the book several times. I did not understand the background until after reading the book at then reading someone's review. I had to re-read several pages trying to make sense of them. I turned the glossary a lot, which I thought was helpful, but there were still a lot of words that were not listed. I don't plan on recommended it to friends.
liltie More than 1 year ago
This book is a work of art. Chabon reinvents the detective story while keeping its conventions. Take "The Big Sleep" meets "Blade Runner", make every character Jewish and set it in near-present Alaska. The imagery and description is so compelling and complex, I found myself re-reading paragraphs just for the enjoyment of the words. I got lost in this book, and that's the reason I read.
nbNYC More than 1 year ago
I read all the reviews and sympathize with the person who said he/she may have been thrown off by all the "Yiddish stuff." I love all of Chabon's books--The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay is one of my all-time favorites--and I loved this book too but I can definitely see how someone not familiar with the Yiddish language and Jewish culture would get lost and lose patience. However, if you do know about Hasidic Jewish culture, the tension between secular and religious Jews, and if you know a bit of Yiddish, this book is hilarious and, of course, because it's Chabon, brilliantly written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Imagine a land with Indians and Jews meshed together by Presidential decree, gangster Jews running around as card sharks and terrorists bent on resdiscovering the second Temple. Then through in a semi-rogue, rarely sober cop, living in a flea-bog hotel gets sucked in by the murder of a chess-obsessed heroin addict who is also supposed to be a messiah. Oh, and the cop's new boss, his ex-wife. This story for the ages runs through so many facets of history, ancient and otherwise, in an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read. Chabon is clearly a master storyteller with wit and intrigue to keep the story going. In this day of formulaic novels and give it to me now digital influences, this book is a welcome repreive and reminder of the power of the written word.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1948 with the collapse of Israel, the question of a Jewish State is temporarily resolved when Alaska becomes the homeland for the Diaspora Jews. However, the agreement is that this is not the Promised Land as the Alaskan Settlement Act authorized a sixty year lease. In two months, the Reversion occurs raising the question what to do about two million Alaskan Jews. --- Sitka police detective Meyer Landsman relies on alcohol to keep him from going over the edge. His marriage died alongside the abortion of their birth defected fetus while his sister died in a plane crash. His sleuthing skills no longer are keen as he does not care whether he solves a case or not. --- Shocking even himself, a murder in his dumpy Hotel Zamenhof awakens the once dedicated cop inside of Landsman as he goes for one last piece of glory knowing he will be unemployed once the reversion is implemented. The victim Emanuel Lasker was a harmless heroin addict who played chess no apparent motive surfaces as to why he was executed. Even more surprising is his former wife and suddenly current boss have reentered his life and he has been promoted the police chief for the final sixty days. Still Landsman allows nothing to intervene in his uncovering the identity of the culprit that is nothing except some hazy rumor that his sister was murdered instead of dying in an accident. --- This interesting alternate history police procedural frozen Noir provides a fascinating spin to the twentieth century issue of the Jewish homeland. The kvetching levels are stratospheric as fears of being abandoned again lead to the historical chosen mantra 'It's a strange time to be a Jew.' Landsman is an interesting character who finds redemption in the murder investigation. Though a conspiracy takes away from the prime theme of what if the Jews were placed elsewhere, readers will appreciate this innovative thriller. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a fan of the author, I have read most of his books. This one was good but difficult to follow. As others have said, the Yiddish was difficult to follow even with a glossary. But if, like me, you are a fan of his other work then you should read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The review I read of this book made it sound intriguing. I read about half of the book, but finally I gave it up as I found the story hard to follow. I think someone conversant with the language that Jewish people use would really enjoy this story. Unfortunately, for me, it was just too difficult trying to discern what the words were saying. My son says that he loves books by Michael Chabon, and I feel that this has potential to be a fine story. I just was stalled by the language barrier.
zabo More than 1 year ago
Great book.
Fatdog More than 1 year ago
This book is a very sharp parody/critique of Zionism. You don't need to be Jewish to really get this book (I'm not), but a good understanding of Judaism or Zionism would be helpful. As the dustjacket states, this books is all sorts of stories in one (part mystery, part critique, part story about love and life). I love the way Chabon writes, and am looking forward to reading more of his work.
slateraser More than 1 year ago
I have to admit I was a little put off by the cover. I was searching for a bookclub novel that was a little bit different. I found the title of the book to be intriquing and after reading the synopsis I purchased the book. I enjoyed the book right from the beginning. Michael Chabon has a way of developing each character so that you feel you could sit down and play chess with them. He develops the plot slowly with humor that actually had me laughing out loud at times. It is a classic "who done it" with an unbelievable twist. I thought to myself "Oy vey, who comes up with this stuff." His use of the Yiddish language throughout the book only adds to making it a more genuine read. I didn't even know there was a glossary in the back until I had turned the last page. The only negative comment that I have is that sometimes it was a bit verbose but I attribute that to Michael Chabbon's literary signature. It's a great read and one that should be added to everyone's must read list.
AbbyGirlWB More than 1 year ago
This book was really different. Not only an acceptable mystery but an intriguing "what if" on a major historical event. It's thoughtful and the characters are compelling. So believable that I hit Wikipedia upon finishing the book to find out if I'd missed my history class when this "happened". Not a quick read, but well worth the time.
afinkle More than 1 year ago
Mr. Chabon writes a masterpiece of a ¿what-if¿ portion of history. In this case, what if the Jews lost their War on Independence on 1948?

The solution was one proffered at that time, of region in Sitka Alaska for a 40 year term, after which there would be no more sanctuary.

In clear, lyric writing, Chabon brings out the historical facts and dress them with the ¿ghetto mentality¿ prevalent in European Jewry. No longer did the "New Jew" posses the Spartan-like Israeli warrior; instead, we still have the pacifistic minority who try to eke out a living. We see that self-determination is not even on the radar screen for this forlorn group.

This mystery is shrouded with ¿Jewish-isms¿ ¿ the cerebral approach; psychological turmoil; lust for life (over cover); some of the underground elements (which include some of the arcane elements of the red heifer paradox). It even characterizes the Chasidim, as the Other, as well as the fractious Jewish community.

I used this book in a book club with extraordinarily good results, particularly showing how the World War 2 generation coped to survive in a world hostile to Jews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I waited a month to get this book from my public library and I trudged through 130 pages and gave up. I loved The Mysteries of Pittsburgh but all of his other ones didn't tempt me. I decided to read this one because of all the recommendations. I'm sorry I wasted my time. It was very slow and tedious reading. Being jewish, I really thought I would enjoy the jewish theme but I was wrong.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I waited so long for this book to be published. I rushed to the bookstore to purchased it immediately.I regret that now.It's a flat,boring,uneven box. I finally plugged my way to the end, but it was tempting to just put it away and forget it. It wasn't worth the time invested in trying to get through it. Maybe I need to learn Yiddish,as many words were puzzling and caused the story the story to lose flow and tone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author has a gift for language akin to Anthony Burgess, but totally different in style. Chabon presents an alternative history of the aftermath of the Holocaust. Some members of my synagogue's book club found it offensive but I enjoyed the author's dark humor. A familiarity with Jewish tradition will make the book more enjoyable.
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