The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a story about uprooting, about the desperation of never finding one's "land," about the insecurity of never knowing w...moreThe Yiddish Policemen's Union is a story about uprooting, about the desperation of never finding one's "land," about the insecurity of never knowing where one is going to be tomorrow. I'm not Jewish, but in my opinion this novel tells the millennia-old story of a people always forced to run, always prejudiced against, always oppressed. Because from Antiquity (going through the horrid Inquisition era) to World War II, these people never enjoyed a pause in the their flee. Do they even enjoy it now, during the twenty-first century?
But first things first, let's get over with the writing technique that everyone talks about. Simple test: do you like the following sentence? "The clock on the hospital wall hummed to itself, got antsy, kept snapping off pieces of the night with its minute hand." YES → lucky you; you're in for a great ride. NO/MAYBE → this novel is about 380 pages of akin sentences to the one above.
I read lots of comments from people who wondered what was the purpose of the plethora of Yiddish terms? Does Mr. Chabon try to create a language barrier and hence suggest the idea of isolation? It turns out, the language was in fact the spark that kindled the idea of this novel. Here is the story as told by the author himself in "Guidebook to a Land of Ghosts," an essay first published in 1997 (yes, ten years before the novel first saw the light).
In 1993 the author bought a book published in 1958, named Say It in Yiddish (by Uriel Weinreich and Beatrice Weinreich). It was an modern phrasal dictionary, which he calls "probably the saddest book that I own." The issue that gnaws at him is the futility of this phrase-guide, since by that time Israel already abandoned the Yiddish language. From there to brainstorming about possible needs for such a dictionary, there was only one step. (He puts forth two speculations but, for lack of space, I'll mention only the relevant one.)
"I can imagine a different Yisroel (Note: a post-war equivalent of Israel), the youngest nation on the North American continent, founded in the former Alaska territory during World War II as a resettlement zone for the Jews of Europe. (I once read that Franklin Roosevelt was briefly sold on such a plan.) [...] The resulting country is a cold, northern land of furs, paprika, samovars, and one long, glorious day of summer. It would be absurd to speak Hebrew, that tongue of spikenard and almonds, in such a place. (Nota bene: so he assumes that they would speak Yiddish instead)[...]
But grief haunts every mile of the places to which the Weinreichs beckon. [...] By taking us to Yisroel, the Weinreichs are, in effect, taking us home, to the 'old country.' To a Europe that might have been."
It is the old country that the author attempts to recreate in The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and he success admirably. Because this world is not just a scanty pencil sketch - it is a luscious Renaissance-style oil painting (you know, the ones that dwell in every minute detail). Mr. Chabon "paints" credible humans with their emotions and personal histories, which are part of a plausible community history, placed in a made-up but once again believable development, subject to the bigger geographic interaction. No element is left aside and no effort to improve on the novel's world is too small. The author could have chosen to tell the story of the old country from a historical perspective, with much less time-cost and subsequent creative effort. But, by molding a contemporary world, Michael Chabon appears to point out that the character's feelings of uprooting are in fact still a painful reality.
This is not a happy story, but neither is altogether a dejected one. The relentless bereavement of the people who have lost their land is an ever-present shadow. But so is the hope that one day they will find their land. ------✁------------
P.S. At the end, the edition that I read (Harper Collins's ebook published in 2012) has a Glossary of Yiddish Terms, which unfortunately is nowhere before mentioned. Do yourself a favor and check to see whether your edition has one. You'll need it...(less)
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ In an alternate steampunk reality, Seattle is ridden with zombies created inadvertently by th...moreQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ In an alternate steampunk reality, Seattle is ridden with zombies created inadvertently by the release of a toxic gas. A sprinkling of people still leave underground, but most of the population migrated elsewhere. When the 15-year-old son of the man who caused the havoc runs back to Seattle, his mother has no choice but try to save him from a world where zombies are not the most dangerous creatures. And since a boy is a boy, he has to make every possible wrong decision, making his mother attempt's nearly futile.
✐ I have serious troubles trying to figure out who is the intended audience of this novel. The language is overly simplistic, very similar to a YA story, but the main character is 35 and "she did not look a minute younger," which is not your typical YA heroine. Also, the society is implicitly matriarchal, with older but wise women being in the center of everything that is accomplished. My best guess is that the novel was intended for the increasingly numerous adults (women, in this case) reading YA novels. (I admit occasionally I read them too, if not for the sometimes deficient language and limited depth, at least for their more optimistic feeling that unfortunately lacks in most adult novels. There is so much dread, destruction, and gore one can read without getting totally depressed.)
✐ This being said, Boneshaker is an action-driven novel, a page turner by all means. There are battles and chases and fights and traps and all of them are well narrated. In fact the book is a collection of them, with almost no respite. The alternate reality is interesting and quite believable: a mix of steampunk and the current state, with a lot of electricity involved.
✐ And yet I wish there was something more: introspection and a view into the local "politics." This is in fact the reason for the 4-star rating - Boneshaker is almost completely devoid of character development. The bad are bad and they exploit the good who are good. None of them seems to evolve throughout the story, with the notable exception of Briar becoming more open toward her son.
✐ I think this is a good story and the seemingly incongruous elements are made to fit well with each other. But I was hoping for a little bit more.(less)