Thursday, May 24, 2007


The Yiddish Policeman's Union is another great book from Michael Chabon. It works very well as a literary novel, and reasonably well as a mystery.

Like other literary mysteries, the story is not the main point. Instead it is about a person, Detective Landsman, who acts despite apparent futility of action. He works in the Yiddish District of Sitka, an autonomous region of Alaska given to European Jews in the 40s, which is now reverting to Alaska. And the locals are looking forward to the Jews leaving. Landsman pursues a case, despite being told to drop it. His friends and family's experiences nicely tell the story of an people out of place, trying and occasionally succeeding in making a home.

My main complaint is that it suffers from some of the problems of the mystery genre. In more mysteries than not, good ones included, once you learn what is happening, it all seems pedestrian. Once the plot behind the murder is revealed, it does feel a bit like a let down. It also feels a bit tacked on. You can argue it makes sense in the political context established in the book, but I thought it was dissatisfying.

Like the great mystery writers of the 50s, Chabon is taking a much more stronger political stance than I have seen in his other books. I thought this worked well and made perfect sense. The fate of the minority in an alien society is front and center in this book. Middle Eastern and by extension American politics creeps in slowly over time. He has a jaundiced view of it, which he makes clear in the end, particularly in the closing paragraphs.

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