The Yiddish Policemen's Union
By Michael Chabon
Completed April 8, 2008
The Yiddish Policemen's Union was one of the most peculiar, entertaining and head-scratching books I have ever read. Michael Chabon is a deliciously fun, imaginative writer, and this book is dripping with literary snark. I was expecting an "okay" read, and I am happy to report that I loved, loved, loved this one.
The book is set in Siska, a fictional district in Alaska inhabited by Jews who fled there in the late 1940's. Siska embodied the good and bad of any community, and to help combat the bad, Siska employed police officers like the main character, Meyer Landsman and his partner, Berko Shemets. Meyer was one of those Lethal Weapon/Mel Gibson cops- quick with the one-liners, always working on a hunch and on the verge of self-destruction. And Berko was just like Danny Glover - the stable married guy who often pulled his partner out of trouble. Mix in Meyer's ex-wife, Bina, who served as their commander, and you have The Yiddish Policemen's Union.
The guys were investigating the death of heroin junkie, who may or may not be the Messiah. Their inquiries led to the strictest of Jewish sects and a conspiracy of historical proportions. Each chapter took the reader closer and closer to unraveling the mystery, and Chabon kept his readers at the edge of their collective seats through each page. It's a classic "who done it" story - with a lot of Yiddish language.
I am not well-versed in Judaism or Jewish history, but I detected a serious side to this story - a commentary on the numerous displacement of Jews throughout history and an exploration of what happens when Jews get too comfortable in any one place. I wonder too if Chabon is holding up a mirror to Jewish society and showing readers the pluses and minuses of their culture. Again, I am not an expert in Jewish culture, but I will be curious to read thoughts from those who are - to learn more about the "Jewish" aspect to this tale.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union is not a book for everyone. I think you have to enjoy dark, subtle humor (similar to Christopher Moore) and not be intimidated by the Jewish themes in this story. It's a very readable story, brilliantly written and eloquently developed. I look forward to reading more work by Michael Chabon in the near future.