Tag Archives: Michael Chabon

Mr Thursday’s Book Shelf 4: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

As Michael Chabon would tell it, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed establishing a refugee camp in Alaska for persecuted Jews fleeing Nazi-Europe. Whether or not this bit of historical trivia is accurate, I do not know, but Chabon takes the idea and runs with it, presenting Sitka as the Alaskan home for the “Frozen Chosen”. The agreement was that the camp would last sixty years, and thus, this community of Jews gave birth to new generations who had never known life outside Alaska, and yet knew that their time in the place of their birth was coming to an end, as the contract was about to run out. The main character of Chabon’s newest novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, is Meyer Landsman-a modern day Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, but with the twists of being both Jewish and, it would seem, manic depressive. Like his predecessors, however, Meyer possesses a profound drinking problem, and a knack for luck and smarmy observation. The story begins as Meyer is awakened by the night manager of the Hotel Zamenhof, where he lives. One of the other tenants is dead, obviously killed, and Meyer, as both an obsessive policeman and paranoid king of a ransacked castle, start the investigation immediately.

His investigation leads him throughout Sitka, where he’s confronted by family-all old, some missed, and some unwanted; by pious Jewish gangsters-the “black hats”; by chess masters and by, perhaps, the Messiah. Overhanging the whodunit caper is the matter of how, in a short two months, the Sitka Jews will be Diaspora again, with many Jews not knowing what they’ll do, and some, like Meyer, barely caring.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union moves far more quickly than Chabon’s masterpiece, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but it builds upon Chabon’s goals for his writing. Namely, he manages to infuse an actual story with brilliant prose and three-dimensional characters. The book makes heavy use of the Yiddish language, as well as its accompanying Jewish culture, and every one of its quirks are put to fine comedic, or plot-moving use. The novel reads easily, and beautifully, and it is a kind of well-paced, well-written fiction that should be celebrated at every turn.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Michael Chabon
Hardcover: 432 pages
HarperCollins
Amazon

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Mr Thursday’s Book Shelf: The Final Solution

In the on-going effort to add more material to the Curious Mechanism, we’re presenting a review. We’ll do stories from an era, of anything length (and, potentially, written in several languages), and we’ll publish our two cents upon them whenever we’ve read them. Hopefully, the bookshelf will get another addition every week or so, but if we get around to reading Les Miserables (1779 pages), War and Peace (1500 pages), or In Search of Lost Time (a mere 1.5 million words) you’ll forgive us if we need more than 7 days. Actually, if we read that last one, we’ll probably just review the sections as we go along.

Furthermore, if you have any suggestions for books that we simply must read, either email us or leave a comment. We’ve got a really sweet Amazon account that’s just itching for more use, and genuine love for all kinds of fiction, and most kinds of non-fiction (though the over-wrought, over-long biography is a point of frustration, that kind of thing can always be passed of on Mrs Thursday). Though, if you recommend us anything written in another language, we ask that you provide your favorite translation. We’ve got some knowledge of other languages, but we’re not about to pick up Dutch just because you think we should read Soren Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Though, seriously, anyone who recommends something like that is probably a sadomasochistic jerk. Have you read that? It’s insane. Remarkable, but, come on. Like you want us to start writing about dialectics here. Do you know how much philosophy the people responsible for this blog have read? Really. Recommend to us fiction and history books. Please. Be kind.

After the break, our first book, Michael Chabon’s detective story, The Final Solution. Yes, it’s 2 years old, and yes, it’s only 131 pages, but we’re easing into this thing.

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Chabon Pulls a Dickens, But Nobody Told Me

I was introduced to Michael Chabon during my senior year of high school, I think. Mrs. Diamondstone, my beloved English teacher during 11th and 12th grade, had our class read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which has become one of my favorite books, and one of the few Pulitzer Prize winners I’ve read that I believe actually deserved the award.

Since Kavalier and Clay, I’ve read Wonder Boys, Werewolves in Their Youth, and I’ve got Mysteries of Pittsburgh on my desk waiting for me to finally read. I really need to pick up Final Solution, and I’m more excited for The Yiddish Policeman’s Union than I am about the next Harry Potter. I adore Chabon. He’s my favorite living author, and second place isn’t particularly close.

So, imagine my surprise and horror when I read on Chabon’s Wikipedia page on Tuesday that he’s writing a serial novel that’s being published in The New York Times‘ magazine section every Sunday. Why didn’t anyone tell me, damnit? The serial, Gentlemen of the Road, started in late January. As of March 25th, 9 of the 15 parts have been published. As of this moment, I’ve read the first two parts, and as expected, I love them.

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