The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780007149834
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/29/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 162,984
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.05(d)

About 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.


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

Read an Excerpt

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.

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Yiddish Policemen's Union 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 251 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
JonathonWalford More than 1 year ago
Chabon's narrative is so intense that a mental afterglow of his prose remains stuck in your mind long after you've put the book down, assuming that you can put it down...the verbal images he paints are more mesmerising than the story he tells. It's funny, too!
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.
ConfuzzledShannon 6 months ago
Meyer Landsman is a police detective. He and his partner are investigating a murder in the Jewish community. The farther they dig the more strange this murder seems. Some believed the man who was murdered was the savior. As Landsman struggles with finding leads he makes connections with what went wrong with his marriage and how he's dealt with negative events that have happened in his life. This was a book recommended in the Life’s Library group. I probably would not have read it otherwise. I did not know what to expect when I started it. I had heard of author Michael Chabon but have never read anything by him. I wish I could say that I want to read more by him, but alas.., No. The fact that I finished this is a great feat because I am still not sure I understand what was completely going on. Here is what I gather… The story takes place in Alaska is mostly Jewish neighborhood who like to play chess. There is a murder and the detective isn’t a great detective nor a sober one. They spend most of the book trying to find out why the victim was murdered which doesn’t matter because the character never finds out and neither does the reader. This is the first book that I wished I had read as an ebook because of all the Yiddish words. I had no idea what characters were talking about some times. I sorta flipped to the back looking for a glossary and I did not see one my first look( which is my bad because there was one). I had just missed the glossary my first flip through but on a second look when I more than halfway through there it was. Everything in this book never has a payoff. The people annoyed me, and the fact that Meyer’s sister was suddenly thrown into the mess at the end. The book was just very frustrating for me. The not understanding of the words and the fact that by the time I was connected with the characters we get a cliffhanger and instead of thinking, “I need the sequel” as I would with a book I liked. I instead thought, “f this author and characters” and threw the book across the room.
yetanotheraccount on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just finished listening to the audio. Wasn't impressed. Tried reading print version. Just didn't capture my attention.
edgeworth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1940, when World War II was still nothing more than a distant brouhaha to the Americans, the U.S. government considered opening up Alaskan settlement to displaced European Jews. The proposal was killed in Congress, largely due to Anthony Dimond, Alaskan delegate to the House of Represenatives and a major opponent of the program for financial reasons (officially) and anti-Semitic reasons (allegedly).In Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Dimond is killed in a car accident before the bill can be overturned, and a section of Baranhof Island in the Alaskan panhandle is opened up to Jewish settlement. History is tweaked; Jews flock to Alaska, less remain in Europe, the Nazis therefore spend less effort on killing them than they do in fighting the war, the war drags on for longer, and the 1948 Israeli independence movement is unsuccessful. The U.S. District of Sitka becomes the international Jewish homeland; cold, distant and as bitter as the Diaspora itself.And so this is an alternate history novel: science fiction, in keeping with Chabon's recent desire to experiment with genre fiction. But it's also a detective novel, in which alcoholic homicide detective Myer Landsman must solve the execution-style murder of one of his junkie neighbours in the seedy hotel he calls home. Naturally this leads him on a noirish investigation into the dark heart of Sitka, the Hasidic Jews and their organised crime, his chess-addicted former espionage director uncle, the mysterious connections and conspiracies, the men in suits from the U.S. government. This takes place in late 2007, shortly before the "Reversion" on New Year's Day 2008: the return of Sitka to U.S. territory, leaving a teeming city of Jews with nowhere to go.Chabon's style is, as usual, heavily reliant on visual metaphors. I have no issue with this (it is, in fact, my favourite style of writing) but it's strange to see it applied to a detective novel. And in fact I'm not sure if that's what this is. So many genres are blended in this book that Chabon sometimes seems to lose sight of them. The detective cliches come down thick and fast for the first few chapters, before drifting off as Chabon focuses on his usual heavy themes of literary fiction. It's a great book, certainly five stars, but it just seems a lot less sure about itself than The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was. Granted, Kavalier & Clay was Pulitzer material which I personally consider to to be the greatest novel written in the last ten years. So The Yiddish Policeman's Union, while it can't measure up to its heavier older brother, is nonetheless a great read that I can reccomend to pretty much anybody, provided they're willing to struggle through Chabon's complex prose for the rewards that lie on the other side.It also won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel, which I think is a lot like sending David Beckham to play a game of soccer with a group of 12-year old kids and then giving him the award for best player.
thorold on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've never quite seen the point of alternative history as a literary convention: this book has done nothing to change that. As a reader, I would expect a writer who has gone to the trouble of designing a whole "might-have-been" culture and society ought to be using that perspective to tell me something profound and original about the culture and society we actually have. In Chabon's case, all he seems to be doing is showing off a lot of clever linguistic fireworks and concealing an implausible thriller plot behind a pastiche 1940s detective story. If you suspend the rules of realism, there should be more to it than word-play and a few cheap gibes at Zionists, American imperialists, and followers of orthodox religion. Having said that, it is undoubtedly an entertaining and clever book: not as funny as I was led to expect, but nicely done. Just as in real noir detective fiction, the best bits are those scenes where the detective has been shot, hit on the head, is faced with some intellectual challenge while trying to recover from a hangover, or has been locked up by the bad guys. The book is perhaps long enough for the reader to get a bit bored with extravagant similes and the present historic tense, but the Yiddish language-play does help to liven things up a bit.
sarah_rubyred on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great read, Chabon has again immersed himself in a subject and been able to regurgitate what he has created without making it feel like a wiki article. Books like this will always be enjoyable as they have a somewhat predictable yet decent storyline that becomes a bestseller because of the original setting.
PIER50 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wanted to read this and managed 111 pages, but found it hard going as there so many Yiddish refereces I did not understand. A shame because I can see it is well written.
mojacobs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like Michael Chabons' writing a lot, so I was quite surprised that I had difficulties "getting into it". I considered giving up on it, but slowly the plot, the place and the characters grew on me, and by page 150 I was hooked. Chabon has created a complex parallel world, where the Jews have not been able to make Israel their homeland, and must find their place elsewhere in the world. In Sitka, Alaska, their time is almost up, and the Indians will win the vote for an end to the Jewish settlement. In the last few months before everybody will have to move, a junkie is found dead in the same hotel where Detective Meyer Landsman is staying. Here begins a grim tale of crime, corruption, religion, fanaticism, and FBI-plots; with a broken marriage, complex family relationships, and an exceptional friendship for light relief. Grey surroundings, defeated and hopeless people, in sad little lifes, with nothing to look forward to but trouble and hardship, do not make for comfortable reading. This book is very noir, very hardboiled, with more than a hint of Chandler. Very well written, beautifully imagined, astonishingly complex. Not an easy read, but more than worth the effort. Still, I hope Chabon's next book is not as dark as this one.¿
phoebesmum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating experimental A/U noir set in a world where the settlement of Israel failed, but a part of Alaska became the Jewish state instead. Inventive and gripping, but ¿ I do feel a glossary might have helped.
PaulBread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"On the bedside table Lasker kept a chessboard. It looks like he had a game going, a messy-looking middle game with Black's king under attack at the center of the board and White having the advantage of a couple of pieces."Lasker is a pseudonym of the murder victim, who turns out to have been a world-class chess player. So why would he have been looking at a position which is so obviously won for White? This question never occurs to the detective, supposedly a chess player himself.Chandler's books come to about 250 pages: this book, in a somewhat similar genre, is over 400. The extra 150 pages are filled with long paragraphs, contributing little or nothing to the plot, filled with extended metaphors and similes - the one I'm looking at on page 308 includes in its figures of speech the broken shards of a thousand tinted mirrors, the Talmud, an origami airplane, an animal concealing its spoor, a wad of tissue, and a barometer. Which makes it not so much Chandler as homework for a creative-writing class.On the other hand, I read the whole thing. It's an extraordinary and interesting concept, and Chabon is an able writer.
wendyrey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't know what to make of this one. Well written alternative history and detective story with more than a touch of black comedy.I found the plot very complex and the links not always clear. I think I missed an awful lot of the cultural references. Reading was quite hard going.Decent enough book , probably a better read if you can get the linguistic and cultural references.