Catalogue


The Yiddish policemen's union : a novel /
Michael Chabon.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.
description
414 p. ; 23 cm.
ISBN
0007149824 (acid-free paper), 9780007149827 (acid-free paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.
isbn
0007149824 (acid-free paper)
9780007149827 (acid-free paper)
general note
A murder mystery set in the imaginery Jewish homeland that is Alaska.
catalogue key
6094185
 
Includes bibliographical references.
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Book Sense Book of the Year, USA, 2008 : Nominated
California Book Awards , USA, 2008 : Won
Edgar Awards (Edgar Allan Poe Awards), USA, 2008 : Nominated
Hammett Prize, USA, 2007 : Nominated
Hugo Awards, USA, 2008 : Won
John W. Campbell Award, CAN, 2008 : Nominated
Locus Awards, USA, 2008 : Won
First Chapter
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
A Novel

Chapter One

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.

"He didn't answer the phone, he wouldn't open his door," says Tenenboym the night manager when he comes to roust Landsman. Landsman lives in 505, with a view of the neon sign on the hotel across Max Nordau Street. That one is called the Blackpool, a word that figures in Landsman's nightmares. "I had to let myself into his room."

The night manager is a former U.S. Marine who kicked a heroin habit of his own back in the sixties, after coming home from the shambles of the Cuban war. He takes a motherly interest in the user population of the Zamenhof. He extends credit to them and sees that they are left alone when that is what they need.

"Did you touch anything in the room?" Landsman says.

Tenenboym says, "Only the cash and jewelry."

Landsman puts on his trousers and shoes and hitches up his suspenders. Then he and Tenenboym turn to look at the doorknob, where a necktie hangs, red with a fat maroon stripe, already knotted to save time. Landsman has eight hours to go until his next shift. Eight rat hours, sucking at his bottle, in his glass tank lined with wood shavings. Landsman sighs and goes for the tie. He slides it over his head and pushes up the knot to his collar. He puts on his jacket, feels for the wallet and shield in the breast pocket, pats the sholem he wears in a holster under his arm, a chopped Smith & Wesson Model 39.

"I hate to wake you, Detective," Tenenboym says. "Only I noticed that you don't really sleep."

"I sleep," Landsman says. He picks up the shot glass that he is currently dating, a souvenir of the World's Fair of 1977. "It's just I do it in my underpants and shirt." He lifts the glass and toasts the thirty years gone since the Sitka World's Fair. A pinnacle of Jewish civilization in the north, people say, and who is he to argue? Meyer Landsman was fourteen that summer, and just discovering the glories of Jewish women, for whom 1977 must have been some kind of a pinnacle. "Sitting up in a chair." He drains the glass. "Wearing a sholem."

According to doctors, therapists, and his ex-wife, Landsman drinks to medicate himself, tuning the tubes and crystals of his moods with a crude hammer of hundred-proof plum brandy. But the truth is that Landsman has only two moods: working and dead. Meyer Landsman is the most decorated shammes in the District of Sitka, the man who solved the murder of the beautiful Froma Lefkowitz by her furrier husband, and caught Podolsky the Hospital Killer. His testimony sent Hyman Tsharny to federal prison for life, the first and last time that criminal charges against a Verbover wiseguy have ever been made to stick. He has the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker. When there is crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket. It's like there's a film score playing behind him, heavy on the castanets. The problem comes in the hours when he isn't working, when his thoughts start blowing out the open window of his brain like pages from a blotter. Sometimes it takes a heavy paperweight to pin them down.

"I hate to make more work for you," Tenenboym says.

During his days working Narcotics, Landsman arrested Tenenboym five times. That is all the basis for what passes for friendship between them. It is almost enough.

"It's not work, Tenenboym," Landsman says. "I do it for love."

"It's the same for me," the night manager says. "With being a night manager of a crap-ass hotel."

Landsman puts his hand on Tenenboym's shoulder, and they go down to take stock of the deceased, squeezing into the Zamenhof's lone elevator, or elevatoro, as a small brass plate over the door would have it. When the hotel was built fifty years ago, all of its directional signs, labels, notices, and warnings were printed on brass plates in Esperanto. Most of them are long gone, victims of neglect, vandalism, or the fire code.

The door and door frame of 208 do not exhibit signs of forced entry. Landsman covers the knob with his handkerchief and nudges the door open with the toe of his loafer.

"I got this funny feeling," Tenenboym says as he follows Landsman into the room. "First time I ever saw the guy. You know the expression ‘a broken man'?"

Landsman allows that the phrase rings a bell.

"Most of the people it gets applied to don't really deserve it," Tenenboym says. "Most men, in my opinion, they have nothing there to break in the first place. But this Lasker. He was like one of those sticks you snap, it lights up. You know? For a few hours. And you can hear broken glass rattling inside of it. I don't know, forget it. It was just a funny feeling."

"Everybody has a funny feeling these days," Landsman says, making a few notes in his little black pad about the situation of the room, even though such notes are superfluous, because he rarely forgets a detail of physical description. Landsman has been told, by the same loose confederacy of physicians, psychologists, and his former spouse, that alcohol will kill his gift for recollection, but so far, to his regret, this claim has proved false. His vision of the past remains unimpaired. "We had to open a separate phone line just to handle the calls."

"These are strange times to be a Jew," Tenenboym agrees. "No doubt about it."

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
A Novel
. Copyright © by Michael Chabon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2007-03-05:
They are the "frozen Chosen," two million people living, dying and kvetching in Sitka, Alaska, the temporary homeland established for displaced World War II Jews in Chabon's ambitious and entertaining new novel. It is-deep breath now-a murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller, so perhaps it's no surprise that, in the back half of the book, the moving parts become unwieldy; Chabon is juggling narrative chainsaws here. The novel begins-the same way that Philip Roth launched The Plot Against America-with a fascinating historical footnote: what if, as Franklin Roosevelt proposed on the eve of World War II, a temporary Jewish settlement had been established on the Alaska panhandle? Roosevelt's plan went nowhere, but Chabon runs the idea into the present, back-loading his tale with a haunting history. Israel failed to get a foothold in the Middle East, and since the Sitka solution was only temporary, Alaskan Jews are about to lose their cold homeland. The book's timeless refrain: "It's a strange time to be a Jew." Into this world arrives Chabon's Chandler-ready hero, Meyer Landsman, a drunken rogue cop who wakes in a flophouse to find that one of his neighbors has been murdered. With his half-Tlingit, half-Jewish partner and his sexy-tough boss, who happens also to be his ex-wife, Landsman investigates a fascinating underworld of Orthodox black-hat gangs and crime-lord rabbis. Chabon's "Alyeska" is an act of fearless imagination, more evidence of the soaring talent of his previous genre-blender, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Eventually, however, Chabon's homage to noir feels heavy-handed, with too many scenes of snappy tough-guy banter and too much of the kind of elaborate thriller plotting that requires long explanations and offscreen conspiracies. Chabon can certainly write noir-or whatever else he wants; his recent Sherlock Holmes novel, The Final Solution, was lovely, even if the New York Times Book Review sniffed its surprise that the mystery novel would "appeal to the real writer." Should any other snobs mistake Chabon for anything less than a real writer, this book offers new evidence of his peerless storytelling and style. Characters have skin "as pale as a page of commentary" and rough voices "like an onion rolling in a bucket." It's a solid performance that would have been even better with a little more Yiddish and a little less police. (May) Jess Walter was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for The Zero and the winner of the 2006 Edgar Award for best novel for Citizen Vince. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2007-03-01:
What's washed-up cop Meyer Landsman to do when a heroin-addicted, chess-crazed denizen of the dump where he lives gets plugged in the head? He's going to find the killer, and to that end he calls in his partner (and cousin) Berko Shemets, a bear of a man who's also half-Tlingit because, you see, this is...Alaska? In this wildly inventive blackest of black comedies, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) imagines that after World War II Roosevelt decreed the yet-to-be-50th state the homeland of the Jews. Years have passed, and the Jews have settled in very nicely, thank you, re-creating the aura of the Mitteleuropa they've lost-though the black-hatted, ultra-orthodox Bobovers turn out to be real thugs. The meddling of our two boys leads them straight to powerful and dangerous Bobover leader Rebbe Gold and eventually to a plot aimed at the reclamation of Israel. It also leads them into plenty of hot water with the top brass, including their new boss-Meyer's ex-wife, Bina. Raucous, acidulous, decidedly impolite, yet stylistically arresting, this book is bloody brilliant-and if it's way over the top, that's what makes Chabon such a great writer. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/07.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Library Journal, December 2005
Library Journal, January 2007
Booklist, March 2007
Library Journal, March 2007
Publishers Weekly, March 2007
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown. But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life-and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder-right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage-and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears. At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

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