The Yiddish Policemen's Union

by Michael Chabon

Essay by Ted Gioia

Michael Chabon’s
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a strange, brilliant book
that readers will find difficult to classify. Is it a Zionist Da Vinci Code? A work
of alternative reality in the manner of
Philip K. Dick? A hard-boiled mystery
novel? A grand literary effort in the high style? It is, in fact, all these things,
and more.

Twelve years ago,
The Washington Post
dubbed Michael Chabon as “the young
star of American letters.” Chabon, who
turns forty-four in a few days, has lived
up to the early hype. Since the dawn of
the millennium, he has seen his
made into a movie with Michael
Douglas, and won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize
for his novel
The Amazing Adventures of
Kavalier and Clay. Along the way, he turned
down a chance to appear in a Gap ad, and
People magazine packing when they
wanted to place him on their list of the
“50 Most Beautiful People.” (And who
says that serious novelists don’t lead
glamorous lives?)

Now Chabon has treated his fans with a new novel that will rank among his
finest works. Imagine, for a moment, that Franklin Roosevelt had responded
to the plight of European Jews by setting aside part of Alaska as a homeland
for the Diaspora. This intriguing premise is Chabon’s starting point for
Yiddish Policemen’s Union
– a mind-bending game of what-if similar to Philip
Roth’s recent literary effort to re-imagine America if Lindbergh had been
elected President in 1940, or Dick’s depiction of the United States in the
aftermath of a defeat in World War II.

Chabon takes delight in his alternative Alaska, and lovingly describes all the
small details -- food, fashion, ritual, place names and the like -- in a playful,
ingenious manner. Occasionally, he lets a few other snippets of alternative
history escape in a passing mention, referring to the first lady Marilyn
Monroe Kennedy or a Vietnam-like war in Cuba.

But this imaginative reconstruction of a Jewish Alaska is merely the
backdrop for a intricately plotted mystery, which is the second layer in
Chabon’s multifaceted novel. Down-and-out detective Meyer Landsman
finds a dead body in his skid-row hotel, and is determined to track down the
murderer, despite warnings from higher-ups that this is a case that he
should not investigate.

The clues he assembles are odd ones. Chess pieces are arrayed in a
peculiar endgame position near the body. The deceased lived under
different aliases, all drawn from famous chess players in the past. And the
victim’s life is as puzzling as his death – some saw him as a pathetic junkie,
others as the potential leader of a messianic cult.

The third layer of the plot brings us into the realm of the
The Da Vinci Code,
where conspiracies and secretive organizations and two millennia of arcane
history emerge as provocative undercurrents in the story. Yet Chabon
brings all these elements together, seamlessly telling his tale on several
different levels. And, as always with Chabon, the entire book is meticulously
written. Chabon writes with great intelligence and creativity, page by page,
paragraph by paragraph, even sentence by sentence.  By any measure,
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a significant work by one of America’s
finest novelists, a whimsical whodunit with a double dose of literary flare.
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Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

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Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

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The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

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Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

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The Foundation Trilogy

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I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

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The Demolished Man

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A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

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Dandelion Wine

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Fahrenheit 451

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The Illustrated Man

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The Martian Chronicles

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

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The View from the Seventh Layer

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The Master and Margarita

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A Clockwork Orange

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Ender's Game

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The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

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A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

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Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
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Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

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I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

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Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

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American Gods

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Burning Chrome

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The Magicians

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The Centauri Device

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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

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Time Enough for Love

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Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

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The Lathe of Heaven

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The Big Time

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Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

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What Dreams May Come

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A Canticle for Leibowitz

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Dangerous Laughter

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Cloud Atlas

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Behold the Man

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The Final Programme

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Murakami, Haruki

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Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
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Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

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The Time Traveler's Wife

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Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

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The Female Man

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Dimension of Miracles

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Store of the Worlds

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Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

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Around the Moon

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Cat's Cradle

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Infinite Jest

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Hieroglyphic Tales

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Lord of Light

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This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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