Book Recommendation: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
If you’re looking for a summer beach read, keep looking. If you’re looking to renew your faith in humanity, make a U-turn. But if you’re in search of an Alaskan detective story, a twisted love story, or maybe a browbeater illustrating the endless plight of landless Jews...well, then you’re in luck with The Yiddish Policemen's Union.
Michael Chabon has given us an alternate universe in which Israel was never born and Jewish refugees seek protection in the formidable small towns of Alaska. Prospects for permanence are bleak—the U.S. is not keen on having the Jews hang around so frequently threatens expulsion. Political, economic, and meteorological strife do not band the Jews together, however, but instead force a highly clique-ish chaos of rich Jews, fanatical Jews, Jews about to be deported, and, of course, detectives trying to impose some semblance of peace and order.
Is this feeling melodramatic? We’re not done yet. Into all of the political drama, throw one giant Native American stepbrother, one disowned ex-double agent father, one dead prophet, one aborted child, two cults, and one ex-wife returned to serve as a boss.
Still, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union manages a gravitas that its telenovela-esque plot would seek to belie. It is Chabon’s mastery of character depth that makes his novels worth reading. Though it’s common practice to believe that people are mostly good with some forgivable flaws, Chabon paints an inverse picture. His characters are primarily despicable tempered with the slightest pinch of redeeming qualities.
So, in iconic Chabon style, the hero of our story is a dark and tortured one. Detective Meyer Landsman is a fuck-up of an alcoholic who makes more mistakes than meals*. He infuriates the people he loves the most, he flirts with danger like it’s a cheap hooker, and he frequently capitulates to self-pity. Yet, somehow, Chabon teases out the elements of his character that are loveable, admirable, and utterly human. We root for Landsman because he fights for meritocracy, we root for him because he admits he’s wrong, and we root for him because he’s less evil than the other guys.
*Even though Landsman barely makes time for food, he always craves kugel (smart man!).
Source: I received this book as a Christmas gift from my mama.