Five Bubble Book Club discussion

The Yiddish Policemen's Union > Final thoughts [*spoiler alert*]

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message 1: by Eric (last edited Jul 05, 2018 10:59AM) (new)

Eric Li | 212 comments Mod
OK, now that I have put the book down for a week and think about it a bit more. Some of the interesting details surfaced:
1) It casually mentioned that Russia fell to German and German was nuked. So cold war didn't happen. This might somehow led to that Christian evangelical US government that we saw.

2) This is a "hardboiled" detective story, in fact, the author even made the two detectives eating hardboiled eggs in a scene, not sure if he was just poking fun with the genre name.

3) The execution-style of killing was emphasized during the initial investigation. I think the purpose was to mislead readers to believe it's a murder. While it turned out to be an assisted suicide.

4) When they are on the island, there is one chapter began with a story about people seeing Bristol UK from Alaska. It is very symbolic in the context: First, it hinted that the purpose of this island base is for some plan far away, then in general, everyone and group in this story is chasing their own city in the cloud: Pious Jew (Zion), normal Yiddish (a permanent state), natives (Alaska), Broko (identity and love from his father Hertz), Hertz(political success), Landsman (Ex-wife Bina) and Bina (a promotion for a position not in guarantee in 2 mo.).

5) If Landsman is not an especially smart detective, he certainly is a diligent one. If I remember correctly, the whole case was solved in under 2 weeks. The main interrogates were even done by the weekend, speed wins, I guess?

message 2: by Robert (last edited Jul 07, 2018 04:48AM) (new)

Robert (rahenley) | 85 comments First, thank you. Without you folks to kick my tuchis into gear, this wonderful book would have continued to languish on my shelves, for who knows how long.

About the language: I love Chabon's prose styling -- it's rich, without being plummy, and as lyrical as Tolkien at his best. (And from the afterword, I find that's for a similar reason: like Tolkein's works, this story was driven by language -- by Chabon's encounter with a Yiddish phrasebook and imagining a world in which such a phrase book would be useful.)

I was also amazed at how well the cynical wit of the hard-boiled detective fit with that of the Yiddish culture generally. It makes me want to smack my forehead for not realizing how close they were -- and stand in awe at how Chabon brought them seamlessly together.

About the plot: I think it's nice and tight. I see a few potential plot holes in retrospect, but only in retrospect -- in the moment, the tension and words carried me over them without noticing how far I was suspending my disbelief.

(view spoiler)

About the genre: Although clearly an alternative history, I catch no whiff of the tropes of science fiction in this book at all. Detective fiction tropes, sure, but not sf. The book just happens to be set in a world where history was different. It's so matter of fact and gently handled that I'd easily recommend this book to a non-sf reader.

About the world-building: Excellent! I don't see all of the causal connections which explain the book's historical backstory, but that may be partly why the book doesn't smell like science fiction. The past just is what it was and we get glimpses of it, not a full recitation, and the book is better for that.

In the appendix interview, Chabon says he wrote out the history of this world -- and had to revise it repeatedly to meet the needs of the story. I'd love to read that history and maybe even his drafts: this is a book that could easily support a companion volume about how it was written, the drafts and changes, the backstory, etc. I'm just grateful the appendix gives us glimpses into that background.

About the characters: I believe them. They came to life on the page, they changed and grew, and I liked them, even the unsympathetic ones. Well, not the politicians and spooks -- they're downright scary.

And while I'd like to know more about what happen to those characters, I also feel that the end of the book was a good place to leave them.

message 3: by Eric (new)

Eric Li | 212 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "First, thank you. Without you folks to kick my tuchis into gear, this wonderful book would have continued to languish on my shelves, for who knows how long.

About the language: I love Chabon's pro..."

Wow, if goodreads has a like button on forums I’d smashed it.
Yeah the audiobook contains the interview too. Chabon mentioned that the essay he wrote actually offended the Yiddish community a lot, which is a little surprise to me. I kept trying to find out if he is Jewish himself but google gave me nothing.

message 4: by Robert (last edited Jul 07, 2018 04:49AM) (new)

Robert (rahenley) | 85 comments Eric wrote: "Wow, if goodreads has a like button on forums I’d smashed it."


I found a repost of his essay (I think) here: Say It in Yiddish. Just start after the second paragraph; that's where I think the blogger stops and Chabon's work begins. I wish it were more clearly quoted.

But I can see people who love a no-longer-popular language being a bit touchy about it -- and about that community not being all that widely known. My wife worked with an avid speaker of Esperanto, which I thought had dried up and blown away long ago, but hasn't.

It's a little like what William Gibson said about the future: "The future is already past is still here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

message 5: by Eric (new)

Eric Li | 212 comments Mod
Put my notes here ahead of the book meeting, literally copy paste from my notes

Yiddish Policeman Union

Berkely interview

Non fiction book

criticism against lego and wonder woman vs super girl

basement own isolation childhood
build a tree house for kids hope them feel terribly bored
grandfather patent lawyer and inventor

He is a Jew ("half observing, bacon eating")

sholem “peace” gun

the chess puzzle?

Boston globe: what is a eruv?

What do you think about the donation plates all over the island

Guardian profile

Simpson cameo

Brief recap of the story
Chabon introduction
Ask about general feelings
Jewish element. Sholem, Eruv
Is Yiddish making it difficult to read
Connections to personal life
What is your favorite character?
What do you think about the title?

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