Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

by Michael Chabon

Part mystery, part alternate history, part celebration of the Yiddish language, Michael Chabon’s latest novel takes us to places we’ve never been.

Alternate history: Israel collapsed in 1948, and Jewish people have been relocated to the Federal District of Sitka, a temporary safe haven in Alaska. Time is running out, and Sitka is about to revert to Alaskan control.

Mystery: a body is found in the Hotel Zamenhof, a fleabag motel in Sitka. Homicide detective Meyer Landsman just happens to live in the same place, and he instantly becomes involved in the case, despite orders to ignore it. Among other things, he discovers that the dead man had great significance in the religious community, and what follows his death is too complicated for me to describe in this review.

This is what I can tell you: I was instantly engrossed in this story. No, I have no knowledge of Yiddish. After a while, you just kind of skip over those words you don’t know and can’t figure out in their context. I just enjoyed the mystery and atmosphere. You will, too.