The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've never read a real noir before, so I don't know how this measures up to the genre; I've read my share of Yiddish-influenced stories before, and this is an ok addition to that genre. As a combination, I could see where Chabon was going, but I don't think he quite got there.
The weaving together of the possibility of a Jewish state in Alaska, the desire of some Chasids (and fundamentalist Christians) to bring the Messiah closer by reestablishing the Temple, chess and Tliglit culture in a noir mystery is a pretty interesting concept. Where it fails is that there's no real context for much of it: if you don't understand any of those worlds, the story doesn't make sense. The use of Yiddish throughout is enough to confuse most readers! As for the mystery piece, I wasn't that surprised by the whodunnit or whydunnit parts, perhaps because Chabon was too busy building his world to make them more difficult (or plausible) to spot.
The jacket cover's phrase "a novel that only Michael Chabon could have written" is one of the stupidest I've read in a long time. I mean, duh. If this had been written, even with the same elements, by Robinson Davies or A.S. Byatt or even Rick Riordan, it would have been a different novel! Having said that, one of the things I enjoy about Chabon's work is that he is willing to dabble in different genres.
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