Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I was really excited to pick up the Yiddish Policemen's Union, because I've heard so many good things about Michael Chabon's talents as an author. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay is on my list for this year - I might just try for another author repeat on the strength of this novel.
In 1940 there was an effort to offer the Jews worldwide a sanctuary in a part of Alaska, both to save their lives, but also to import manpower to help tap the natural resources of the Alaska Territory. The effort failed - and this book is based on the contrapositive of the effort succeeding. Set in modern times, in essentially our world, the Jews of Sitka, Alaska, face the prospect of reversion, which meant that the United States was taking the territory back. This leaves their status uncertain, and drives large parts of the narrative.
The main character is Detective Meyer Landsman (pronounced Lohndsmun), and his profession allows him to show us the highs and the lows of Yiddish Sitka life. The story unfolds like a spool of thread thrown down a few dingy flights of stairs. I won't say any more because it's a mystery and one just doesn't do that.
The spool of thread simile was purposeful (but inadequate): Chabon's imagery is spectacular and unrelenting. An approaching motorcycle is "a heavy wrench clanging against a cold cement floor. The flatulence of a burst balloon streaking across the living room and knocking over a lamp." One important character is "a deformed mountain, a giant ruined dessert, a cartoon house with the windows shut and the sink left running, a dough model made by blind orphans who never laid eyes on a man ... A millionaire could cover a Rolls-Royce with the fine black silk-and-velvet expanse of the rebbe's frock coat and trousers. ... a creature of the deep, a man-made structure, or an unavoidable act of God."
Wow. I mean, that isn't a character introduction, it's an assault like a... just kidding. I could see how some people might grow tired of the constant comparing of things to other things, but usually the comparisons were so creative that I just marveled. I hope you will too.