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The Yiddish Policemen's Union

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  74,647 ratings  ·  7,260 reviews
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 revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan pa ...more
Hardcover, First Edition (US/CAN), 414 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by HarperCollins
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R.E. Conary Of course it is. There's no such animal as an "inappropriate" book for a high school senior.…moreOf course it is. There's no such animal as an "inappropriate" book for a high school senior.(less)
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(B+) 77% | Good
Notes: It starts well and gets interesting in the middle, but the ending's an afterthought and the text is befuddlingly flowery.
May 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who "weary of ganefs and prophets, guns and sacrifies, the infinite gangster weight of God"
"I don't care what is written," Meyer Landsman says. "I don't care what supposedly got promised to some sandal-wearing idiot whose claim to fame is that he was ready to cut his own son's throat for the sake of a hare-brained idea. I don't care about red heifers and patriarchs and locusts. A bunch of old bones in the sand. My homeland is in my hat. It's in my ex-wife's tote bag."

The Yiddish Policeman's Union is one of those rare, rare novels of ideas that is also character-driven, and the people
Violet wells
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
This would make my short list for the most overwritten novel I’ve ever read. It’s Michael Chabon so of course there are some fabulous lines. But at times I felt like I was reading Thomas Pynchon or Nabokov fan fiction. Several times I was on the point of abandoning it but annoyingly Chabon would suddenly bring all his considerable talents as a storyteller to the table and produce a great chapter. Problem was, that was almost always followed by another five rambling overwritten ones.

It reminded
Mario the lone bookwolf
An alternative history novel with a dark setting, a language one could endlessly use for interpretation, to debate about, and a monument of not giving up while protecting oneself with cynicism and Jewish humor at its best.

Unique style some may find too heavy and exhausting to read
The language is amazing, I guess that there are huge differences between the English and German version and that it´s close to impossible for the poor translator to find the right equivalents, as the language is so loa
Nov 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Oy vey!

Michael Chabon’s 2007 novel is about as original an alternative history as can be imagined: Israel collapsed in 1948 and a section of Alaska has been set aside for an extended Jewish territory. Within this setup, Chabon then goes on to tell a fun whodunit.


Like the best of Tom Wolfe’s writing, Chabon’s descriptive language and inventive style sets this apart from other alternate history books about Jews in Alaska. While the mystery can drag at times and this was longer than I wo
Nov 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
My father's family is Polish-Jewish. My paternal grandmother was fluent in Yiddish, and whenever I see my parents they talk incessantly about Israeli politics. I must have read at least half of Isaac Bashevis Singer at one time or another. Also, I'm a chess player. I even knew the chess problem in question, and had read Nabokov's explanation in Speak, Memory of his thought processes as he constructed it.

So how would it be possible for me not to love this book? But my reasons for loving it are s
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews

When I think of The Yiddish Policemen's Union, I can picture a complacent Chabon frequently patting his own back while writing this book. If he can come up with three ornamental ways to portray one thing, he includes all three of them in the book. He seems mighty pleased with his writing and probably believes in sharing his beautiful mind with everyone. He will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat with suspense, to furnish a leisurely description of the setting before moving on. Every litt
Richard Derus
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Rating: 4.75* of five

2019 UPDATE***Soon to be a cable TV drama!***

The Book Report: 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 revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and c
Matthew Quann
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Many years ago, after I'd finished off The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, one of my all-time favourites, I decided to follow up on my personal Chabon binge with The Yiddish Policeman's Union. For one reason or another, I made it about 50 pages deep and abandoned the entire book. I sat it next to its better known counterpart on a shelf where it would rest for many years. Then, suddenly, it became a book club pick and I saw it as a sign to dig in and give this book another kick at the can. ...more
May 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Lena by: Moonrat
Shelves: fiction
When I first heard about this novel, I found its premise too fascinating to resist: it's a noir-inspired murder mystery set in an alternate universe in which refugees from the failed state of Israel are living in a section of Alaska temporarily loaned to them by the US government. At the beginning of Chabon's novel, their lease on this land is about to expire, signs of the messiah's imminent arrival are accumulating, and a dead man has inconveniently turned up in the fleabag hotel of broken down ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
The corpse with the extra hole in his head may turn out to be the least of Detective Meyer Landsman's problems. His ex-wife is now his boss (professionally, this time around), and she's just handed him a tall stack of file folders full of cold cases she wants him to solve. A dark Alaska winter is creeping in, and Landsman is sinking deeper into a shady mess that reeks of conspiracy and long kept secrets.

There's no denying it . . . Chabon plays well with words; crafting sentences of such loveline
Oct 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: noir fans who aren't expecting much
Had a pretty lengthy review, which was deleted when I made the mistake of changing the shelf. Yeah, I don't get it either.

Long story short: I still don't get why Michael Chabon is supposed to be one of the great writers of the 21st century. "Wonder Boys" was an enjoyable read. Nothing life-changing, but smart, fast, and chock full of quirky characters.

"Kavalier & Clay"....not so good. I am a fan of the comics industry, and I have to say the beginning describing it's birth had me riveted. And t
I picked up a copy of “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon purely out of curiosity. This novel was nominated for, and won, the prestigious Hugo Award. The Hugo Award is for outstanding science fiction and I have never seen “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” on the science fiction/fantasy bookshelves in any bookstore. It’s only been in the mainstream fiction section. Now that I’ve read it, I still don’t understand how it won the Hugo. True, it is an alternate history; but it’s a socio-p ...more
Jun 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in Jewish culture and speculative fiction.
Imagine a crazy world in which, following the Holocaust, Jewish survivors languished in DP camps in Europe, were often still barred or discouraged from immigrating to the various "democracies", and found themselves pushed into emigrating to the Middle East where, through a variety of historical coincidences, they founded a new society based on dispossessing the indigenous Arabs and acting as imperialism's pit bulls in the region.

That's the crazy world we do live in.

In many ways, Michael Chabon's
This is a book that I didn't want to read. Once I actually acquired a copy it sat mouldering on my shelves for over a year before I got to it. Having only read Kavalier & Clay and having been only mildly whelmed by it, it didn't call to me at all. Then, madness of madnesses, it was not only nominated for, but won the Hugo Award, even when stacked up against such brilliant scifi writers as Ian McDonald and Charles Stross. Upset doesn't begin to describe my reaction. How dare this dabbler in genre ...more
1. Chess
2. Police investigations
3. Judaism
4. Alaska

I don’t know much about any of these topics. Which meant from page one, it was going to be an uphill battle for Chabon to interest/teach me.

And he lost the battle.

Now that I have finished the book, I have negative (literary) interest in most of these topics. My curiosity about life in Alaska remains mostly intact. Yet once it was used in the set-up, the cold tundra was tossed aside and rarely impacted the story.

To his credit, Chabon put up a
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Strange Times to be a Jew

So the yid is a shammes named Meyer Landsman. He lives and works in an alternative history version of Alaska, the Federal District of Sitka, to be precise.

The city of Sitka is home to 3.2 million inhabitants, most of whom are Jews (or descendents of Jews), “the Frozen Chosen”, who fled the collapsed state of Israel after it lost the Arab-Israeli War in 1948. Like Hong Kong in 1997, Sitka is reverting to the control of the State of Alaska on 1 January, 2007:

“Nothing i
Jacob Overmark
There are not less than 36 tzaddikim/righteous persons in the world who receive the Shekhinah/the Divine Presence
-- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b, Sukkot 45b

There is a person born each generation with the potential to become Messiah, if the Jewish people warrant his coming. This candidate is known as the Tzadik Ha-Dor, meaning Tzaddik of the Generation.

Sitka, Baranof Island, Alaska. Home to some 2 million Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, resettled here during the late 30-ties and early 40-ties,
Dana Stabenow
I wanted to be a good reader, I wanted to give it a good chance and not pick nits because it wasn't written by an Alaskan. But I just. couldn't. trudge. through the prose. So, yet again, I feel out of step with everyone I know, who all loved the book and demanded I read it. Sigh. ...more
Jason Pettus
Oct 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Is Michael Chabon possibly our nation's greatest living writer? Oh, wait, I already know the answer to that rhetorical question -- yes, yes he is. And that's because, more than almost anyone else working today, Chabon has the ability to elegantly enfold the elements of literature most revered by acad
The Yiddish Policemen's Union: Larger-than life characters overwhelm noir plot
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I knew I would eventually get around to this book. How can one resist? An alternate history about the US resettling European Jews to Alaska to escape the Holocaust, in a world in which Germany defeated the Soviet Union, Berlin was destroyed by nuclear weapons in 1946, and Israel was destroyed in 1948 in a different version of the Arab-Israeli War. Michael Chabon uses this setting
Dec 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing

I just have to record some great bits of this book as I go along.

p. 13

And just last week, amid the panic and feathers of a kosher slaughterhouse on Zhitlovsky Avenue, a chicken turned on the shochet as he raised his ritual knife and announced, in Aramaic, the imminent advent of Messiah. According to the Tog, the miraculous chicken offered a number of startling predictions, though it neglected to mention the soup in which, having once more fallen silent as God Himself, it afterward featured. Even
Will Byrnes
Oct 05, 2008 rated it liked it
What if Israel had not come into existence in 1948 and another solution had been found, namely the USA ceding a portion of coastal Alaska for a temporary Jewish state? Now add to that a noir crime yarn set in this fictional state. What’s not to like?

Oy! This is a very slow-moving detective yarn, so slow in fact that I contemplated not finishing it. Chabon concentrates on giving family and cultural historical details in this alternate reality yarn. That becomes too much, particularly as the forwa
I would call this urban fantasy only by the skin of it's teeth. In fact, sci-fi / mystery might be most appropriate. Alternate reality very like this, except that it takes in a Jewish settlement, a carved out area of Alaska, that is going to "revert" to Alaska in the coming year. More about identity and homelands. ...more
May 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Just starting, been wanting to read this for a long time.
It is probably my own fault that I was disappointed by this book. I heard a review of it many years ago on the radio and hunted up and down the shelves of bookshops until years later I found a paperback copy.

In my imagination I was sure that this book would be the hard-boiled love child of Isaac Babel and Raymond Chandler, witty, insightful and with its collar turned up against the rain. The title promised an array of pleasures. The slog of police union politics conducted in Yiddish, a hint of
Oct 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Quite a unique novel. It's an alternate world in Alaska and I love alternate worlds. It took me a couple of a hundred pages to get into this book but once it took off, I was hooked. Michael Chabon may become another favorite author to go along my long list. I loved the noir style storytelling and the characters captured my attention and guided me through the story. There were a lot of Yiddish phrases that went over my head and I suck at solving mysteries in stories and I'm still confused on how ...more
Feb 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
The New York Times outdid itself touting this as "The Frozen Chosen." (If you're not familiar with Chaim Potok, that won't mean much.) Still, I'm not sure how to categorize the book, particularly given the success/acclaim it has enjoyed - and, even having read it - it doesn't "feel" like science fiction to me. Yes, yes, it's fiction, and it's better than serial detective fare, and Alaska (particularly a recreated portion of Alaska) is intriguing - particularly with the mix of natives and immigra ...more
Mar 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
They smell of lamentation, these yids, long underwear, tobacco smoke on wet overcoats, mud. They're praying like they're going to faint, fainting like it's a kind of observance. Weeping women cling to each other and break open their throats. They aren't mourning Mendel Shpilman, they can't be. It's something else they feel has gone out of the world, the shadow of a shadow, the hope of a hope. This half-island they have come to love as home is being taken from them. They are like goldfish in a ba ...more
I had no intention of ever reading this book, or probably any of Michael Chabon's books, if I'm totally honest. I don't know what it is, but they just... don't appeal to me. I know nothing about them, other than the titles and the covers I've seen (because you know that's my way) but they just don't snag my attention, and when they are put in front of my face, I'm just... meh.

But then, my friend 2.0 suggested this as a buddy read (pushing this book in front of my face) and I was like "Nah..." a
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Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made in ...more

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Twists, turns, and whodunits. We pride ourselves on recommending some great mysteries and thrillers here at the Goodreads office. So, we decided...
124 likes · 63 comments
“Every generation loses the Messiah it has failed to deserve.” 84 likes
“It never takes longer than a few minutes, when they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That's what a family is. Also the storm at sea, the ship, and the unknown shore. And the hats and the whiskey stills that you make out of bamboo and coconuts. And the fire that you light to keep away the beasts.” 58 likes
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