Tim's Reviews > The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
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's review
Mar 10, 2008

really liked it
Recommended to Tim by: The publisher of this book.
Read in March, 2008

I really liked the start of this book. It was cruising along, likable characters, good depth, great backstories that were doled out just right. Up until the last hundred pages or so I was loving it. Then we get into this messianic world changing conspiracy thing. OK, the book is set in an alternate universe, so I guess changing the world id allowed and expected. Still, for some reason I was put off by the conspiracy. I'm conflicted about it. I still think the book is really well written and almost entirely enjoyable. What is most amazing is the setting itself, which doesn't feel like a made up place. Jewish Alaska comes off seeming very real and so does it's history with its ups and downs. The "warsaw tunnels" that the Jews fresh from Nazi Germany built, the abandoned developments at the edge of town where hope gave out, and the remnants of the Sitka World's Fair all make the world seem real and sad. This fog of sadness that hangs over Sitka is convincing and part of what makes the end of the novel so difficult. Throughout this book there is the question of 'reversion'. Sitka, a district in Alaska, is about to revert to the United States, and so the fate of the 2 million or so Jews who call it home is uncertain. I found myself wanting reversion to be reversed, for Sitka to be allowed to continue on. You get this sense of the hope that these people had for their new home. It is the hope that accompanies every diaspora, the hope for a normal life. There is also this conflict between that hope that is placed in the new life, and the feeling of loss for the old one. For a certain portion of the Sitka Jews, home is always going to be Israel. In that respect I like the conspiracy aspect of the story, which involves a return to Israel. Chabon makes the comparison between a salmon and the zionists, "forever dreaming of its fatal home". There is something to this aspect of the story, something meaningful. I just wish it had been done better. Even during this muddled final third of the novel, the characters and setting shine.
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