The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon handily won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2008. As an alternate history, it gets lumped in with science fiction and fantasy, although there is a quasi-fantasy element that surfaces in the latter part of the book. As one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner, Chabon is an excellent writer who knows how to evoke mood and emotion. The story is a detective noir (more along the lines of Chinatown than The Maltese Falcon) set in Sitka, Alaska, where the Jews settled in 1948 and are now, sixty years later, in danger of being expelled when the land reverts to Alaskan control. Homicide detective Meyer Landsman begins what looks like a fairly routine murder investigation only to be drawn into a circle of intrigue, deception, and conspiracy. Along the way he must face his personal demons in the forms of his estranged wife, who is now his boss, and the mysteries of his sister’s death in an airplane accident years ago. Weaving colorful characters and settings together, Chabon paints a fascinating picture of what might have been, while keeping us enthralled with mystery and action. Chabon’s use of Yiddish, Yiddish-derivatives, and even Esperanto words and phrases may turn off some readers, but most of the words are contextually self-evident, and there is a glossary in the back of the book. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a marvelous feat of world building and linguistics.


2 responses to “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

  1. So do you think that this novel belongs in the science fiction/fantasy camp? A majority of membership of the WSFS seems to think it does. I am not so sure. That of course begs the question If not the science fiction/fantasy camp, to what genre does alternate history belong?

    • I’ve always had trouble lumping straight alternate histories with science fiction/fantasy. Although I don’t read a lot of alternate history, the ones I have read mostly seem to have some sort of fantastical element, too, which makes it easier to justify placing in the SF/fantasy genre. And if you consider alternate histories to be a subset of alternate dimensions, which are a staple of science fiction, then it makes sense. I don’t know where else you would put alternate history. I doubt it has enough popularity to form a separate category and I can’t imagine the historical fiction buffs would welcome it into their midst.

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