I absolutely loved Kavalier and Clay so I had high expectations for this latest Chabon book. It was good but not my favorite of his. I would recommend reading Kavalier and Clay before The Yiddish Policeman's Union. It was written in the police/murder mystery style a la Raymond Chandler. It was well written, as is anything by Chabon. The characters were well developed. But the style just didn't grab me as much.
An interesting look at Alaska if the real (yes, truly it was proposed) plan of resettling Jews in Alaska had occurred. I found it a bit hard to read as there was no glossary and use of a lot of Yiddish. Michael Chabon has a great way with words and there are some fantastic passages. The characters are well-developed, however, by and large I was disappointed with the plot and its resolution.
Are you kidding me? This book won the Nebula? This book won the Hugo? For starters, it's a stretch to categorize this as fantasy or science fiction. It's set in 2008 and technology is exactly the same as what we have available to us today. The only difference is an alternate history. The alteration is that land in Alaska, namely Baranof Island, is set aside as a temporary refugee settlement for Jews during WWII and Israel loses its battle for independence in 1948. So now, in 2008, Sitka is a thriving Jewish community. The main character is a homicide detective in Sitka and the story involves Jews, alcohol, chess and murder. The story, honestly, is quite boring. I fell asleep three times while reading this book. I never fall asleep while reading. The writing, however, was amazing! It was chock full of incredibly interesting and offbeat metaphors and similes. I haven't read any other books by Michael Chabon so I don't know if having a boring story is a recurring problem for him (although I've been told by a friend that it very well might be), but writing the way he does, if he could come up with an interesting story I'm convinced he could produce an amazing book. But this was not it.
I nearly gave up on this because it just wasn't grabbing me, but I kept plugging away in the hope that eventually I'd get as enthused as I was by Kavalier and Clay. But it never happened. The plot - an alternative history look at what might have happened had the post holocaust Jews been unable to settle in Israel after WWII and instead were granted temporary residence in Alaska -- was just far fetched enough to intrigue me. And I have to admit that the strange question of who killed the heroin addicted, gay potential Messiah and ex-wonder child who was also a chess prodigy hooked me once I got into it. But in the end the book just didn't deliver. And what's every bit as much of a mystery as the question about the son of the rabbi who was murdered in the flea-bitten hotel room he'd been living in is how on earth this novel could possibly have won two prestigious awards for science fiction writing!!
It took awhile to get into, being as there is a lot of yiddish and no glossary, but after awhile the yiddish just flowed into the story and the writing is beautiful. It is truly the best book I read all last year. Chabon has a style all his own that takes my breath away and leaves me, even in a crowded restaurant, which is where I do most of my lunchtime reading, entranced with his fictional world.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. However, if you are not Jewish, I am not sure that you would understand the nuances and flavor of this story. It was well written and extremely entertaining, but if you are not Jewish, you probably won't get the humor or even the underlying sadness of this story. L'Chaim.
First of all, I'm not jewish and I love the film noir, hard boiled detective genre. It's a challenging read for anybody who is not really familiar with jewish culture/history.....think of this book as a jewish version of "The Big Sleep"...lots of questions and a very complicated, multi leveled plot, and lots of yiddish slang set in an alternate history. The setting is also very atomspheric, although I will concede that readers unfamiliar with jewish humor/culture will get left out.
I am not done with this book, yet. But, I am pretty into it as it is picking up speed and I am picking up Yiddish. I thought it might be helpful to suggest this link: http://www.yiddishdictionaryonline.com/ I have it up on my cell phone for when I can't figure out the Yiddish words from context. Happy Reading!
Loved this book. Again (a theme in my reviews) I listened to it on CD, and that made all the difference. I had tried to pick it up several times before, but never got beyond the first chapter, but the book on CD had me hooked in the first few minutes. The reader, Peter Riegert, did a great job with voices and the flow of the language - particularly in dialogue. Some of the characters, like Berko Shemets, will live in my memory permanently, and the setting Sitka, Alaska in an alternate world history is thrilling, as are some of the subplots involving chess fanatics, Phillipino doughnuts and an underground tunnel system.
The only thing that lost it the final star is the plot. Set as a murder mystery, the plot gets lost in the sauce, so to speak. By the end of the book, while you know who-dun-it, there are still a number of unanswered questions, which may have been the author's intent, but which still bother me. (Did Mendel perform those miracles or were they legends? What did Elijah know, or was he just a random red herring?)
I absolutely adored this book - the oddball Yiddish/Alaskan flavor of it, the fatalistic pride of the protagonist, the bizzarro mystery. The characters are complex and profoundly human, with complicated and believable histories, and idosyncratic responses to situations. The subliminal constant pressure of a society on the brink of panic keeps the tension high throughout, but the bear-like plodding of the central character makes it feel homey, too. I highly recommend it.
I thought that I would never get into this book in the first few chapters, it felt like we walked into the middle of the plot and we just had to catch up. By the second half of the book I still didnt know who had done it, why the feds were shutting down the police station, and where everyone was gonna go? Of course at the end most of the questions had been answered, the killer identified and the hero I think comes to his senses. A very serious book with some humor thrown in, laughed right out loud stuff. I would recommend this book.
I liked it even better than the Amazing
Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Alternate history meets noir mystery - but Chabon's writing definitely
transcends the conventions of any genre. He intentionally takes the stock
noir character of the beaten-down, alcoholic policeman - and makes him not
a stock character at all, but a fully-realized, memorable character, Meyer
Said character is a policeman to the Jewish territory of Alaska, where,
after WWII, refugees were allowed to settle. (And no, the native Alaskans
weren't that delighted with it.) However, now, Reversion is
(Hong-Kong-like) approaching. The Alaskan territory is going back to the
USA, the settlers will have to relocate, and angst and uncertainty are
everywhere. Well, except for in the Orthodox/organized-crime-run
community. Against this background, a man is found murdered in Landsman's
flophouse hotel, an unfinished chess game on the table next to him.
Murders aren't too uncommon in Sitka, Alaska, but this one, Landsman feels
obligated to solve, as it happened literally on his home turf. He feels
that obligation even when his ex-wife, also a cop, comes back to town -
after being appointed his supervisor - and orders him to stop the
investigation. In mysteries, does the cop ever stop investigating when
told to? Of course not!
Really, a great book. Everyone should read it.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union won the 2007 Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the year, and the 2008 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the year.
What a load of rubbish.
The only bit of this novel which might even remotely be considered SF is the fact that it's set in an alternate history where the state of Israel was a failed experiment, and many (most?) refugee Jews wound up in a settlement in Sitka, Alaska.
Now, I picked the novel up precisely *because* it won SF awards, and my disgust at how far from SF this novel is really flavored my reading of the novel.
So this is a noir-esque murder mystery novel, with a down-on-his-luck detective investigating a killing that took place in the residential hotel where he lives. He and his supporting cast are somewhat enjoyable, and the setting actually is pretty neat. The politics against which everything plays out are also interesting.
There may be a lot of this novel that I don't "get," seeing as I've got no Jewish anything in my background, also.
This is a rambling review. The book was almost enjoyable. 2.5 of 5 stars.
I think that this Hugo award winning book would be classified as an alternate history. Israel is no more. Many Jewish people have settled in the federal district of Sitka, Alaska. However, the area is to be reverted to Alaskan control. Homicide detective Meyer Landsman and his partner, Berko Shemets, are searching for a murderer. Landsman's life is a mess. He drinks too much, has lost his wife and his career is in the doldrums. As a result, he has dedicated his life to law enforcement. His successes are admirable but his addiction to alcohol is tragic.
When Landsman discovers that his former wife, Bina, becomes his boss, he is frustrated and unsettled. How can he report to the woman he still loves and solve the murder that is consuming his interest - a murder she tells him to forget?
More murders, much investigation, and violent adventures lead Landsman into a tangle that only a chess game can help him solve. It's an outstanding read with romance, mystery, adventure and a tangled plot that keeps the reader forging ahead. While it would help the reader to have a good understanding of Yiddish, I still enjoyed it very much. Good one!
I didn't start out liking this audiobook, but got to enjoy it as I listened further. Lots of Jewish/Yiddish terminology, which I know very little about. There is an interesting interview with the author at the end of the book, so make sure to listen to that.