I finished reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon this week. Wow. What a weird ride. I usually polish off my books in about 2-3 days. This took me three weeks. So, it was not what you might call a page turner. HOWEVER. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. It was like eating really rich, quality chocolate. You can only eat so much of it at any given time.
In brief, it’s a murder-mystery story told in a film-noir style, but the world this takes place in is an alternative-reality world where the country of Israel never happened. Instead, the Jews were re-settled in Sitka, Alaska where they were given a 60-year safe haven. This story takes place in the sunset of those 60 years. The Jews of Sitka are preparing to be once again ousted from their country.
It was densely written with images that I just don’t have the vocabulary to describe properly. Here’s an example to give you the flavour:
His dream makes a knight move, and with characteristic fervor, his little sister, Naomi, begins to explain to Landsman Einstein’s famous proof of the Eternal Return of the Jew and how it can be measured only in terms of the Eternal Exile of the Jew, a proof that the great man deduced from observing the wobble in the wing of an airplane and the drift of a dark bloom of smoke rising from the slope of an ice mountain. Landsman’s dream calves other slow iceberg dreams and the ice hums with fluorescence. At some point the humming that has plagued Landman and his people since the dawn of time, which some in their foolishness have mistaken for the voice of God, gets trapped in the windows of room 505 like sunlight in the heart of an iceberg.
It’s darkly beautiful and unexpected.
I heard once that an experiment was done on speed typists. Instead of typing a bunch of sentences, they were given just a bunch of random letters to type. Their speed diminished drastically. They type fast because there are common sequences in our words. Patterns.
It was a similar experience reading this book. It defied my normal experience of reading a book because there were few of the familiar patterns that I’ve come to expect in reading a book. It took longer to understand. Consequently, it also took longer to get absorbed and I never really lost myself in the story, which for me is one of the pleasures of reading.
Still. I think it’s worth the effort.
Pick it up. Read it. Let me know if you agree.