The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Title:  The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Author:  John Boyne

Paperback:  215 pages

ISBN:  9780552773805

Book Challenges:  War Through the Generations World War II Reading Challenge

‘I’m Shmuel,’ said the little boy.

Bruno scrunched up his face, not sure that he had heard the little boy right.  ‘What did you say your name was?’ he asked.

‘Shmuel,’ said the little boy as if it was the most natural thing in the world.  ‘What did you say your name was?’

‘Bruno,’ said Bruno.

‘I’ve never heard of that name,’ said Shmuel.

‘And I’ve never heard of your name,’ said Bruno.  ‘Shmuel.’  He thought about it.  ‘Shmuel,’ he repeated.  ‘I like the way it sounds when I say it.  Shmuel.  It sounds like the wind blowing.’

‘Bruno,’ said Shmuel, nodding his head happily.  ‘Yes, I think I like your name too.  It sounds like someone who’s rubbing their arms to keep warm…  I’m nine,’ he said.  ‘My birthday is April the fifteenth nineteen thirty-four.’

Bruno’s eyes opened wide and his mouth made the shape of an O.  ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said… ‘my birthday is april the fifteenth too.  And I was born in nineteen thirty-four.  We were born on the same day… We’re like twins,’ said Bruno.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, pages 109-110

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is a story of friendship told through the eyes of Bruno, the nine-year-old son of a concentration camp Commandant.  Uprooted from friends and the only home he’s ever known, Bruno hates his new home in “Out-With,” his mispronunciation of Auschwitz, and makes sure everyone knows it.  But one day, when he goes out exploring the area around his house, he meets a boy his own age on the other side of the fence where everyone wears striped pyjamas all day.  The two quickly become friends, and meet as often as possible at the same time and spot everyday from then on.

One of the things I like about this book is Boyne’s layered subtleties.  Bruno, the naive and sheltered innocent, passes along clues of his mother’s infidelity, drinking and depression, as well as the competition that goes on between Gretel, his twelve-turning-thirteen year-old sister, and his mother for the attention of the young Lieutenant Koltor.  Bruno witnesses but can’t quite grasp the difference between him and his family and the people on the other side of the fence, asking different people about it with varying degrees of failure to get a satisfactory answer.  His father tells him the others aren’t people -not really, not in the way we think of.  The Lieutenant calls them a derogatory name that is never passed along in the book.  Gretel comes the closest to answering him, failing only because she herself doesn’t understand it, either, telling him that the people on the other side were Jews and they were The Opposite, and The Opposite hate the Jews.

There are a few things that just got under my skin with this book, however.  For instance, if these people are German, then I assume they speak German in their thoughts as well as conversations with one another.  I found it mildly irritating that Bruno would think “Auschwitz” would sound like “Aus mit” (the direct translation “Out-with”).  Or that he would hear “Der Führer” and think people were calling Hitler “Das Wut”.  Also, there are a lot of repetition in the book.  Okay, I get it… Father’s office is “Out of bounds at all times with no exceptions.”  I got that the first time.  And I caught it on page 1 that Bruno had some stuff that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business.  Another thing I really wish Boyne had added to the book was how Bruno and Shmuel would have spent their birthday.  No doubt Bruno would have had a party with cake and a big dinner, but how would he have shared the special day with his “twin”?

Boyne’s storytelling in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is reminiscent of Scout’s recounting in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, though not as well-done nor is Bruno as developed as a character as Scout was.  In Boyne’s attempt to reach as broad an audience as possible, the story is a bit like thin gruel.  Everyone can digest it, but it hasn’t got very much flavor.  If you are looking for a good book that glimpses the lives of the people during Nazi Germany, I’d recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  The writing is magical, the storytelling point-of-view is unique, and the depth of even the tertiary characters are better than Bruno’s.

Still, I’m passing this book on to my kids.  I think it’s a good book to introduce young and reluctant readers to the subjects:  The Holocaust, racism, hate, friendship, loyalty, love.  I think 4th and 5th graders, particularly boys of that age, would enjoy this book the most.  For me, a mom with a children the same ages as Bruno and Gretel (not to mention the same relationship as the bickering siblings, as well), I found Bruno to be an exasperatingly annoying little whiner at times. 

I give The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne 3 out of 5 stars.  It’s an acceptable read, but for me, as forgettable as Bruno found his three best friends for life.   In a year, I doubt I’ll even remember their names.

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In 2008, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was made into a movie.  I’ll have to put it on the top of my Netflix Queue, it looks fairly good.  Maybe they’ll address the birthday issue for me in it.

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BTT ~ Ah! To Be a Virgin Again!

Booking Through Thursday

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?

(Interestingly, I thought that I had thought this one up myself, but when I started scrolling through the Suggestions, found that Rebecca had suggested almost exactly this question a couple months ago. So, we both get credit!)

I love the thought of being able to have a fresh mind to read my favorite books again for the first time.  Sometimes, a book can be read a second time (or third, and more) and still appreciated and learned from, but to have that sense of not-knowing, and of biting your nails for the character, to experience the injustices and learn the lessons for the first time again would be a gift.

I would love to wipe my mind of the movie and book of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.   To NOT know the outcome of the court case and to feel Scout and Jem’s pain as they realize that justice and the law do not always run in the same pack would be great.  To wonder what Boo Radley was, a ghost or a man?  and to hide Dill under the bed, only to get caught by our father… well, It’d be like falling in love with your first love again.

Another book I’d love to read for the first time again would be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It is so incredibly powerful and the poetry of it so beautiful, that I’m sure it can withstand re-reading again and again.  However, to feel that thrill, that wonder… that terror… to go on that journey again, new once more, would be an experience I’d just about be willing to pay money for.

How about you?  What books would you like to have a second “first-time” with?

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Title:  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author:  Jamie Ford

Hardbound:  290 pages

Date Published:  January 27, 2009

Publisher:  Ballantine Books (div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780345505330

At the next mess hall, lunch had finished.  Mrs. Beatty had him wash and wipe down trays while she coordinated with the kitchen manager on needed supplies and menu planning.  “Just hang out if you get done early,” she said.  “Don’t go wandering off unless you want to stay here for the rest of the war,”  Henry suspected that she wasn’t joking and nodded politely, finishing his work.

By all accounts, the mess hall was off-limits to the Japanese when it wasn’t mealtime.  Most were restricted to their chicken shacks, although he did see people occasionally slogging through the mud to and from the latrine.

When he was done, Henry sat on the back step and watched smoke billowing from the stovepipes fitted into the roofs of the makeshift homes – the collective smoky mist filled the wet, gray sky above the camp.  The smell of burning wood lingered in the air.

She’s here.  Somewhere.  Among how many people?  A thousand?  Five thousand?  Henry didn’t know.  He wanted to shout her name, or run door to door, but the guards in the towers didn’t look like they took their jobs lightly.  They stood watch for the protection of the internees – so he’d been told.  But if that were so, why were their guns pointed inside the camp?

It didn’t matter.  Henry felt better knowing he’d made it this far.  There were still a chance he’d find her.  Among the sad, shocked faces, maybe he’d find her smile again.  But it was getting dark.  Maybe it was too late.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, page 157

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a heart-touching tale of Henry Lee; the son of a prominent, traditional Chinese community leader who’s left his heart in the homeland; called “white devil” by his peers as he goes off to an all-white school on “scholarship” (translation – he does all the janitor work for the privilege of attending the school) where he’s bullied, heckled and harrassed on a constant basis as the only Asian student, that is, until Keiko, a Japanese-American girl, begins to “scholarship” with him; he is also father of Marty, with whom he struggles to communicate or even have much of a relationship after the death of Henry’s wife, Ethel, Marty’s mother.  As the story moves back and forth in time between 1986 to 1942, the reader is able to watch the unfolding of the young, innocent love Henry discovers he has for Keiko, a love that is forbidden, and could even get him disowned, by his traditionalist father, who sees Keiko as just a relative of those people invading and destroying his home.

Their love is undeterred by the war, even when all people of Japanese decent are rounded up and sent away to live in relocation centers (concentration camps) for the remainder of the war.  Henry promises he’ll wait for her, even until she’s an old woman… he promises to bring her  a cane if it takes that long.  However, being children, things are not always so easy or so lasting as young Henry finds out.

The discover of personal belongings left behind by residents of Nihonmachi (Japantown) in the basement of the Panama Hotel offers Henry the opportunity to open up and share with his son, and to heal the rift that had started between Henry and his own father, who made him the man and father he became, despite his desire to be different.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a quiet book, but deeply moving.  It explores racial issues of the 1940s, both those between Caucasians and Asians and blacks, but also between Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, and between Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) and Nissei (second generation Japanese-Americans).  The book addresses how traditional culture has had to give way to contemporary culture.  It also touches on the culture of jazz, and offers music as a unifying agent… something that all cultures can share and appreciate.

One of the things that I enjoyed about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is that it inspires the reader to exploring history further, beyond the covers of the book.  It offers a vignette of American history and life, but it doesn’t preach or teach.  Ford could have very easily turned Hotel into a soap box and spoken out  against the unconstitutional suspension of the civil rights of American citizens by removing them from their homes, robbing them of their property and detaining them without just cause simply because of their genetic heritage.  This would have been a valid argument to have made, but Ford leaves the moral interpretation to the reader.  He could have turned it into a history lesson, but, instead, provides enough information for the reader to do his or her own homework.  Which I did.

And, I apparently found the same documentaries as Ford.  I recommend the following for better understanding of this book:

  • Time of Fear– a PBS documentary about the experiences of both the Japanese-Americans sent to relocation camps in Arkansas and their Caucasian and Black Arkansan neighbors.
  • Unfinished Business – The Japanese-American Internment Cases – while the civil rights movement didn’t really get going until the 60s, not every Japanese-American went along with the government’s unlawful treatment of it’s own citizens.  This documentary shows some of those attempts of civil disobedience.
  • Nanking– Performed by stars such as Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemmingway, Jürgen Prochnow, Stephen Dorff, and Rosalind Chao, among others, this documentary dramatically tells the story of the Japanese Army’s invasion and occupation of Nanking, China.

All three of the videos will help you get a better understanding of the background of the book, but especially Nanking.  It will make all the difference in understanding where Henry’s dad is coming from and help you not to see him as a mean, bigoted, old man.

Well researched, but never feeling “studied,” Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford will allow you to step into the life and culture of another, and to see the world from a different angle, while still provide you with the entrancing escape for which most of us disappear between the covers of a book.  I give Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 4 egg rolls and a fortune cookie(which, I guess, is 4 1/2 stars out of 5… lol)

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The following video is Jamie Ford talking about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and what sparked his desire to tell the story.

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Don’t forget, I’m giving away my copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! Leaving a comment here on the review post is your official entry, but check out The Giveaway Announcement for details on how to get bonus entries and when the contest ends!

BTT ~ Do You Hafta Be So Graphic?!

Booking Through Thursday

Suggested by Vega:

Last Saturday (May 2nd) is Free Comic Book Day!

In celebration of comics and graphic novels, some suggestions:

– Do you read graphic novels/comics? Why do/don’t you enjoy them?
– How would you describe the difference between “graphic novel” and “comic”? Is there a difference at all?
– Say you have a friend who’s never encountered graphic novels. Recommend some titles you consider landmark/”canonical”.

For the longest time, I never gave graphic novels a serious consideration. To me, they were just kids’ books, just a glorified comic book. Not only did I refuse to read them on the grounds they were “books for dummies,” (after all, wasn’t it the mark of growing up? Graduating out of picture books and into chapter books?) but I avoided their whole section like it had a highly-contagious, IQ-lowering virus emanating from it.

However, a few months ago I started getting curious about them. It was about the same time I gave anime an open-minded look. I started walking by their area in the bookstore, then started looking at their spines, and even cracked a couple open before passing them up. Then, when Gwen’s school had a book fair, I came across Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives by Ellen Schreiber and finally bought my first graphic novel.

I had always found the few graphic novels I’d read a little confusing.  Who said what first is sometimes hard to tell, as the bubbles aren’t numbered, and often bump together.  So I sat down with Maggie (it was for her I bought the book) and began to read VK, determined to get through it.   And, after a few pages of working it all out, I started enjoying it.  They’re not the awful stupid-fying, “Dick and Jane grows up” kind of book I’d always accused them of being.

Still, I haven’t read many.  I’ve only read one other graphic novel, Robot Dreams by Sara Varnon.  Part of that, though, is there are just so many to choose from.  I do have one, a manga, coming from PaperBackSwap called Psychic Academy.  Also, since I like Neil Gaiman, I’ve put his Sandmanbooks on my wishlists.  I’ve also got the first Fruit Baskets on my wishlist.

As to which book I’d recommend, well… I’m kind of in that same boat with the hypothetical friend.  Maggie doesn’t like the traditional manga books because they open backwards… lol… it seems I’ve passed my book-prejudice on.  And besides, she says, they’re not worth anything in the Accelerated Reader world, which is her yardstick of book-value.  “Why read it if I’m not getting points for it?”  *sigh*

If you’d like to participate in Booking Through Thursday, click the button above 🙂

Edited to add:  I forgot about the Far Side book I recently read and reviewed, Night of the Crash-Test Dummies by Gary Larson.

Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Title: Prince Caspian
Author: C. S. Lewis
Paperback: 767 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publish Date: 2001
ISBN: 0066298501
Miscellaneous: Second book to be published, Lewis intended it to be read fourth in the series. ALSO, a few of you have wondered about the number of pages listed in my Narnia books. Don’t fret! The book I’ve been reading is a collection of all seven books. The books themselves average 100-150 pages.

“Oh!” said Edmund in a voice which made everyone stop talking and listen to him.

“I’ve just seen it all,” he said.

“Seen what?” asked Peter.

“Why, the whole thing,” said Edmund. “You know what we were puzzling about last night, that it was only a year ago since we left Narnia byt everything looks as if no one had lived in Cair Paravel for hundreds of years? Well, don’t you see? You know that, however long we seemed to have lived in Narnia, when we got back through the wardrobe it seemed to have taken no time at all?”

“Go on,” said Susan. “I think I’m beginning to understand.”

“And that means,” continued Edmund, “that, once you’re out of Narnia, you have no idea how Narnian time is going. Why shouldn’t hundreds of years have gone past in Narnia while only one year has passed for us in England?”

“By Jove, Ed,” said Peter. “I believe you’ve got it. In that sense it really was hundreds of years ago that we lived in Cair Paravel. And now we’re coming back to Narnia just as if we were Crusaders or Anglo-Saxons or Ancient Britons or someone coming back to modern England!”

“How excited they’ll be to see us -” began Lucy, but at the same moment everyone else said, “Hush!” or, “Look!” For now something was happening.

Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis, page 330

In Prince Caspian, the Pevensie children return to Narnia after what was to them a year’s time, to find Narnia almost unrecognizably altered. Lucy’s naive statement that the Narnians will be happy to see their return is quickly quashed, when many that they encounter feel bitter towards the Kings and Queens of Old as having abandoned them.

In the hundreds of Narnian years that has passed, Narnia has slipped into a dark age. A group of people who were once pirates of Spanish descent called Telmarines, rule with an undying prejudice and hatred of the original Narnians, talking animals, Dwarfs, and other magical creatures. To Lucy’s dismay, the trees have lost their voice and retreated within themselves, and many other Narnians have withdrawn and taken to hiding in the mountains and deep forests where the Telmarines are afraid to go.

The rightful heir to the throne, Prince Caspian, survives an assassination attempt by his uncle, who wishes to secure the throne for his newly born son. With the help of the Pevensies and Narnians, Prince Caspian stands against the cruelty and evil rule of his uncle. But is it enough? Or have the Pevensies returned too late?

I read this book a couple weeks ago, but evidently forgot to blog the review. It was during a crazy time of the year: Two birthdays, a double birthday party at the hotel, the heat went out, the digital part of my cable (my internet is through my cable company) went out a couple times (and stayed out both times for more than a day), and other various craziness. But, at any rate, here it is 🙂

Prince Caspian is the second most read and well-known book in the Narnia series. Second to be written and published, most people reading it in the order of publication, manage to get through the second book. Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian has been made into a movie, a BBC mini-series, dramatic audio recording, and audio books.

In this book, Aslan is absent for most of the story. Lucy alone sees him, but chooses not to follow him because her siblings do not believe her as they didn’t see him. The main message of this book is that seeing is not believing, and faith comes from believing and leaning on those around you no matter what “reality” says nor how the odds seem to be stacked against you.

Like the rest of the Narnia books, Prince Caspian is written as a Christian Allegory. Trusting that God is with you, even when you don’t see or feel the evidence of his presence, and that He has planned for you to prosper, not fail.

My favorite character in Prince Caspian, second to Aslan of course, is Reepicheep. This warrior mouse proves that the size of the body is NOT the indication of the size of the heart found within. He is courageous beyond those ten times his size, and inspires loyalty in his followers, who are willing to even cut off their own tails so that their leader does not have to carry the dishonor of the loss of his own tail alone.

While Prince Caspian is not my favorite Narnia book, that would be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, nor my second favorite, The Horse and His Boy is, I did enjoy reading it. It’s definitely worth reading, and should be counted among the must-read classics in English Literature.

I give Prince Caspian four out of five stars.

hated it!didn't like itliked itreally liked itLoved it!

Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey

Title: Freedom’s Landing
Author: Anne McCntaffrey
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Ace/Putnam
Publish Date: May 1995
ISBN: 0441003389

An afternoon breeze swirled the black clouds about and Kris caught glimpses of the man, lurching still further from the crash site. She saw him stumble and fall, after which he made no move to rise. Above, the bees buzzed angrily, circling the smoke and probably wondering if their prey had gone up in the explosion.

Catteni didn’t hunt each other as a rule, she told herself, surprised to find that she was halfway down from her perch.They fight like Irishmen, sur, but to chase a man so far from the city? What could he have done?

The crash had been too far away for Kris to distinguish the hunted man’s features or build. He might just be an escaped slave, like herself. If not Terran, he might be from one of the half-dozen other subjugated races that lived on Barevi. Someone who had had the guts to steal a flitter didn’t deserve to die under Catteni forcewhips.

… Keeping close to the brown rocks so nearly the shade of her own tanned skin, she crossed the remaining distance. She all but tripped over him as the wind puffed black smoke down amon the rocks.

“Catteni!” she cried, furious as she bent to examine the unconscious man and recognized the gray and yellow uniform despite its tattered and black-smeared condition.

Freedom’s Landingby Anne McCaffrey, pages 4-5

Freedom’s Landing is the first in a series of four books by Anne McCaffrey chronicling the struggles and successes of the “colonists” of Botany.

After an invasion by an intergalactic race called the Catteni, tens of thousands of humans are rounded up and dropped off on the planet Barevi, a sort of trading post for the Catteni. Kris Bjornsen is one such Terran, as human are referred, having been captured in Denver. After becoming aware that her Catteni owner has sexual intentions toward her, Kris steals his flitter (a flying personal vehicle) and lives the next few months in the wilds a few miles from the only city on the planet.

When she observes a group of Catteni flitters chasing and firing upon another flitter, she assumes the man being hunted is another slave. However, she is shocked and disgusted that he is a Catteni. Despite her feelings for his race, she helps him to safety and hides him in her absconded flitter she now calls home.

“You’re one of the new species?”

“I’m a Terran,” she said with haughty pride, her stance marred by a convulsice shiver.

“Thin-skinned species,” he remarked. He looked at her chest, noticed the slight heave from her recent exertions that made her breasts strain against the all too inadequate covering and slowly started to stroker her shoulder with one firger. His touch was unexpectedly feather-light -and more. “Soft to the touch,” he said absently. “I haven’t tried a Terran yet…”

“And you’re not going to start on this one,” she said, jumping as far away from him as she could…

-Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey, page 10

When it becomes apparent to Kris that this Catteni intends to reward her kindness by raping her, she conks him as hard as she can, knocking him unconscious, and flies the flitter back to the outskirts of the city with the intention of dumping him where he belongs.

However, things do not go according to plan, and she and her passenger are caught in the middle of a riot. They are gassed and rounded up with the rebellious slaves and dumped on an uninhabited planet.

When they and the other “colonists” come to, many of them want to kill the lone representative of their captors. Kris, who feels responsible for his being dumped with them, convinces Mitford, a former Marine who has taken charge of the people in their dropped group, to spare the Catteni as he may be useful to them.

And useful Zainal turns out to be! Having seen the report on the planet they’ve come to name Botany, he is able to warn them of the some of dangers the planet poses and does his best to save many of those later dumped by Catteni ships.

While this is a Sci-Fi book, don’t let that put you off if you aren’t into that genre. It isn’t all “Dr. Who” and “Star Wars” kind of stuff, though there are a few references made to Dr. Who and one of the machines they encounter is given the name “dalek” because of its resemblance to the fictional “exterminate” proclaiming machine on the show.

More than anything, Freedom’s Landing is a story of survival and the banding together of peoples from differing backgrounds (not only different human groups, but also other alien species -Deskis, Rugarians, and others) to form a new society. If you like Survivor-type shows and books, you’d like Freedom’s Landing.

My friend who introduced me to this book loves the character Zainal, even naming his VR characters after him. And I also like Zainal, who is of Catteni nobility and displays more honor and respect than a lot of the humans he’s dropped with. However, Mitford is my favorite character. Sargent Mitford is the epitome of the concept that one of the best qualities a great leader possesses is the ability to delegate, delegate, delegate! What Sarge is capable of doing with the minimal resources they are deposited with in creating a civilized, working community is mind-boggling. I wouldn’t mind reading a book from Mitford’s perspective.

While there is much I love in Freedom’s Landing, there are a few things I didn’t like. First of all, I found McCaffrey’s writing style annoying in parts. Some of the word choices and expressions she used just rubbed me the wrong way. Also, there seemed to be a few incongruous things written in the book. One example is the initial description of Zainal: His pupils are described as gold and the irises black, but the rest of the book the description is reversed with his irises gold.

Also, McCaffrey never addresses difficulties that would have surely risen with a large number of human females, namely menstruation. With the main character, and from whose perspective much of the book is written, cast as a woman, you would think at least as much verbiage would be used to cover this difficulty as was used to detail the “facilities” for other bodily functions.

Overall, Freedom’s Landingis a fascinating look into the formation of a new society and all the difficulties that brings, as well as the adventure of survival in an unknown land. It’s worth reading, even with it’s faults, and shouldn’t be limited to Sci-Fi nutters.

I give Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey 3 and a half stars.

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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Don’t forget to enter to win your choice of a Borders, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble gift card for $5, $10, $15, or $25! Click and read my Buy Books for the Holidays post for details!