The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon

A joyful romp through an alternative future, at once familiar, and yet definitely not.  Around the bones of a noir-detective story, Chabon has draped the ‘what if’ of an alternate resolution to the Jewish people’s search for a homeland following the horrendous events of the mid- twentieth-century.  What if, rather than re-bordering the middle-east, world powers had somehow coerced those settlers to accept in its stead a sparsely-populated region of – southeastern Alaska?  Though less bluntly brutal than the real story, this hypothetical exile to Alaska gives vent still to that culture’s desire for self-fulfillment, along with their literature’s flair for tragedy, and for perseverance in her face.

Recognizable as relatives of New York tropes, these characters are just like anyone else, only more so – more ordinary, more battered, more lost in their own histories – and all the more sympathetic, for it.  Swept up in events they can barely comprehend, much less control, they search for small satisfactions wherever they can find them, which is mostly in one another – though “god-help-me if I’ll ever admit it to you,” is the universal attitude of greatest affection.

I raced through this novel, never wanting to put it down, till I saw the ending coming all too soon.  An ending, by the way, which felt not quite equal to an otherwise immensely impressive display of imagination and craft, but that is minor carping.  My final words on the subject?  Get it; read it, enjoy it.

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