Manchester District Library Book Club discussion

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

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message 1: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) WOW! I'm blown away--the book is filled with sticky notes--I've looked up articles from the NYTimes--WHEW! I wasn't prepared for this man's writing, since I've never read the more well-known KAVALIER AND CLAY--but he writes sentences the way artists use a paintbrush. The plot and characters have interesting twists--but the WRITING!! I've been missing reading someone who can put together sentences the way he does. The online reviews tend to either love the book or give up on it after starting--and I can understand that the frequent Yiddish colloquialisms might bother some folks. But having been in Israel many years ago and having studied Judaism, with all its power and flaws, I found myself really gripped by this book.

message 2: by Patty (new)

Patty | 102 comments Mod
Good to hear that you have such praise for this book. I will not give up!!
I got some maps of Sitka, Alaska and read about it's history. The Yiddish I just skip over but I'm sure I'm losing meaning to whole sections. Any suggestions?

message 3: by Doris (new)

Doris I figured there must be an appropriate audience somewhere out there. I've just finished reading it and was happy to be done with it. I found it exhausting to try to follow and felt in need of a Yiddish dictionary.
I was truly disappointed since I had already read and really enjoyed Kavalier and Clay.
I would only recommend this to my Jewish friends. Too much 'inside' stuff.
It was lost on me.
I do have a glimmer of a memory of Alaska actually being considered as a home for holocost victims back in the post WW2 era, but am not moved to investigate further.
His writing I found both amazing and annoying. Hated the way he interjected his quotes with a paragraph worth of comments between the beginning and end of some quotes, making me scan back to the start of the quote to make sense of it all.
I guess I would give it 5 Stars of David and 2 regular Stars. I'm really sorry I lack the background for an admirable piece of literature.

message 4: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) I really don't think missing the Yiddish phrases/words, etc. are an issue if you just keep in mind that dark, deep Jewish hunger for the homeland, especially Jerusalem. It was hard for me to grasp, even though I was there way back when I was 20. Do I agree with it? No. Do I find the book criticizing some of the exact things that bothered me about orthodox Judaism? Yes. But when I stood in Jerusalem--(it's said, "ee-roosh-i-LIE-em" in Hebrew), I have to admit to getting chills. The Wikipedia entry on the importance of Jerusalem is interesting ( ), if only to try and grasp the OUTLANDISH conclusion of the book.

I found it worthwhile to read the review at the National Yiddish Book Center ( ).

The Slattery Report, which Doris mentions, was the REAL plan to open Alaska to the Jews in 1938 when Hitler was beginning his plans; if interested, you can read about it at

At any rate, just because I loved the book doesn't mean that anyone else has to--that's the beauty of reading, that it has something for everyone.

message 5: by Doris (new)

Doris Thanks for the references. They were most illuminating.

message 6: by Shea (new)

Shea | 196 comments Mod
I too have finally finished this book. As much as I like his writing style and his beautiful prose I found it hard to get through. Much of the Yiddish and many Jewish references were lost on me. I was confounded by the idea of the boundary maven, appalled by how horrible the different sects of Jews were to eachother, and sadden to think that if they cannot be in the "holy land" a Jewish person could never feel truly at home anywhere else. I still have lingering questions, such as what was Mendel's second big sin. I understand that he was gay but another sin was alluded to that I didn't understand (and this was before he ran away). Are Bina and Meyer back together? I was hoping that if Bina and Meyer were to reconcile it would develop slowly, instead they ended up in bed together out of the blue. Overall, I think I was disappointed in the ending. I really look forward to discussing it in person with all of you. See you next Thursday.

message 7: by Patty (new)

Patty | 102 comments Mod
After participating in the book discussion last night I think I would have gotten more from the book if Julia gave us her notes and thoughts first!! But even then I think you might have to read it a second time to understand some parts of the plot. Anyhow, I do feel that I might recommend the book now, after our discussion, to someone with a knowledge of Judaism.... or talk to Julia first!

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