The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Title:  The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

Author:  Michael Chabon

Soft Cover:  411 pages

Publisher:  Harper Perennial

Publish Date:  2007

ISBN:  9780007149834

Miscellaneous:  This is a P.S. edition

Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.  Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, page 1.

This first paragraph of Michael Chabon’s book about Jews living in the Federal District of Sitka as an interim homeland after Israel failed after three months of Statehood in the alternate timeline of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Now, as the Sitka District is two months from reverting back to the control of the state of Alaska, homicide detective Meyer Landsman, occupant of room 505 of the Zamenhof, a hotel that’s only half a step up from a flea bag flop house, is called on by the night manager to investigate the murder of a man in room 208.  It is apparent from the start that the man is not who he claims to be, and the only clues Landsman has is the bullet hole in the man’s head, a chessboard in mid game, a book of 300 chess moves and the evidence of heroin abuse.

Throughout the book, the reader is able to see and feel the inside world of a Jewish community.  With it’s humor and sprinkling of Yiddish words and phrases, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union begins as a murder mystery but spreads to include the prejudices not only from the outside world, but those within the sects and families within the Jews of the Sitka District and outlying areas, and the political manipulations going on from Washington, D.C. and the Sitka bosses.

As a murder mystery, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is good, but what I really loved about the book was its use of the game of chess as a metaphor and to foreshadow the events in the story.  The use of strategies and tactics to reveal the nature of the characters.  And it is the game that was forever stop mid-play in the dead man’s room that ultimately leads to the capture and confession of the killer.

Besides chess, murder, and Jewish culture, the book deals with the universal nature of a child’s desire for the approval and acceptance from his or her parents, even when that child is a burly man in his thirties and a father himself.  Homosexuality, drug use, alcoholism, and the supernatural all make appearances in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

While I did enjoy this book, I have to say I had hoped it would be more compelling.  I reached the end of the book with the sadness often felt at the departure from the world and people within the covers.  The book didn’t really impress me much, and it will probably be forgotten in six months.  I give The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon 3 out of 5 stars.  It was good but not great, interesting but not a page-turner.


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12 Responses

  1. I didn’t like this one as much as I enjoyed Kavalier and Clay, but I thought it was a pretty good read. The word play is what really made it for me, though – a gun being called a “Shalom” (“peace”/piece) I thought was especially clever. My (very brief) review is here.

  2. This is in my TBR pile – I guess I won’t be in a big hurry to read it now.

  3. I haven’t decided whether I want to read this one or not. Thanks for the review though!

  4. Great review! I thought it was good as well but it wasn’t a favorite of mine either. Thanks for the review!

  5. Good review. It does sound interesting, but not something I think would really pull me in..I might have to pass on this one!


  6. Interesting review, but I don’t think that one will make it to my pile of ‘to read’ books, which is currently quite high!

  7. Thanks for the review- it seems like it’s going to be a good read 🙂

  8. Thanks for the wonderful review! This one is on MT. TBR and I think I will read it eventually.

  9. If you like Jewish type books, you should consider joining my Jewish Literature Challenge.

  10. I loved this book. It had everything; Jews, a murder mystery, chess, Indians, Judaism, Yiddish, Alaska. What’s not to like? It was my first Michael Chabon and I had no expectations though. Shows how different in tastes we all are. Nice to read an honest review. Thanks.

  11. I’ve read many varied opinions about this one …. I’ll probably read it -someday-, but it’s not yet in my TBR.

  12. I’ve been toying with reading this — I just can’t decide. Thanks for the review, I’m going to hold off a while longer.

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