The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Michael Chabon
The Yiddish Policemen's Union Cover

The Yiddish Policemen's Union


Forget Man in the High Castle and Turtledove's books: this is the alternate history that speaks to normal people, especially if you are Jewish. Part murder mystery, part diasporic fantasy, part milieu-piece, this book will have you looking up transplanted yiddish words and Alaskan geography, all in a desperate search for a way to connect the dots. Give up now and just read the book. The Yiddish Policemen's Union either defies categorization or has a claim to every bookshelf (I found it safely in the general fiction section of my local library).

The underlying premise is that Israel never really formed as a nation, after that War which famously redrew so many boundaries, and the Jews were temporarily given a lease on Sitka, Alaska. That lease is up soon and the traditional Jewish fatalism has a common focus as they await a leader, a direction, some final resolution. But this is just a backdrop to the personal tribulations of Meyer Landsman, drunken, divorced cop now working for his ex-wife, Bina Gelbfish, Berko Shemets, half-Indian Jewish cop who looks like a bear in a yarmulke, Mendel Shlipman, who might have been the Messiah and a host of Hasidim gangsters, chess-playing junkies and Men in Black.

The prose is rich and amidst the dreary Alaskan winter there is a bright orange parka, a disguised solid red heifer and so many black hats that you almost don't mind the names which sport too many consonants to pronounce. Every character is fleshed out in the right dose of absurdity, with metaphorical juxtapositions that you will have to read twice just to savor the humor. Come and redeem yourself but bring a chess set.