Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon gives readers an alternative history in this novel.  The premise is that in 1948, countries around the world designated areas specifically for Jewish refugees.  The United States's Jewish portion is Sitka, Alaska, and the refugees have been there for several decades.  Now, due to bureaucratic red tape, the program has been discontinued and the Yiddish community will lose their lands in two months.  There is much dismay and families are planning their futures; many relocating to other countries.

Meyer Landsman is making no plans.  He is a policeman in a department that will be out of business in two months.  His superiors only want him to close his open cases, no matter how or if the right solution has been found.  Meyer is a natural detective but he's been on a low for several years since his wife, Bina, left him.  Now he spends his days drinking and doing as little as he can.

But perhaps its time for a change.  A man is killer; shot in the same hotel where Meyer has been living.  Although Landsman is told not to worry too much about it, he is offended that the man, for whom he has a fellow feeling, would not get justice.  As he works the case, he realizes that the victim is a famous man within the Yiddish community.  The son of the most powerful rabbi, he was considered a genius and miracle worker as a boy.  The pressure was too great and he ran away, ending his life as an addict in a run down hotel.  Landsman wants something better for him.

The case gets more complicated.  Landsman gets a new boss to oversee the shutdown of the department, and horror of horrors, it is his ex-wife.  His partner, who is his cousin, is Berko, a large half Indian, half Jewish man who just wants to get along.  Landsman uncovers layers of intrigue in the Yiddish community with a group of fanatics who want to reclaim their hero to help them take back Jerusalem.  Can Landsman bring justice in this last case?

I'm a huge fan of Michael Chabon and have read several of his  novels.   This novel won the 2008 Huge Award for Best Novel, due to its alternative history setting.  It can also be read as a mystery in the noir category, or for the exploration of Jewish culture.  The reader will cheer on Landsman as he fights for justice against all odds.  This book is recommended for literary fiction as well as mystery and sci fi readers.

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