I finished The Yiddish Policeman’s Union awhile ago. In fact. I also finished the book after it too but apparently I’ve been bad at updating this. I must conclude that Michael Chabon, although he may not write what is typically to my taste, is a genius. I did not see myself enjoying a murder mystery, especially one where the protagonist is an alcoholic cop, but I must say this was the most enjoyable mystery I’ve encountered since the Boxcar Children. I promise, that’s more of a compliment than it sounds like. I adored the Boxcar Children…and their little dog too. heh.
This wasn’t you’re typical mystery. It’s set in the present, as I think I’ve mentioned before but it’s not the same present. it’s the present as if The United States Government had offered a temporary home in Alaska for European Jews during the WW2 era. Chabon imagines an Alaska that the Jewish community has made their own. The world he builds is complete and completely new to me. That alone held my attention. The setting need not carry the novel though because the storyline was well crafted and so well woven into the fabric of the setting that I didn’t think to separate them while reading.
I get the feeling that Chabon must be Jewish. At least he must have Jewish roots. I don’t know that it’s possible to write as fluidly about a culture without sounding like you’re trying too hard as he writes in this novel. There was a lot that I did not understand and I was grateful that I was reading on a Kindle so I could hold down on a word until the definition came up. I found out at the end that there was a glossary in the final pages but I still that even had I known about the glossary I would have needed to spend some quality time on Wikipedia. Before reading this novel my brain understood Jewish people in three categogies: reformed, orthodox, and hasidic. My knowledge about these three groups was also pretty scant. I would expect that orthodox Jews eat kosher and obey mosaic laws more literally. When I thik of reform Jews I think of female rabbis with no qualms about eating peperoni pizza. Hasidic Jews…they have curls…and might be Amish. I saw one once and he wouldn’t talk to me but he spoke to the man I was with. Maybe hasidic Jews find it improper to speak to strange women. That was my knowledge base going into this, a paltry collection of facts varying in degrees of truthfulness. Now after reading this, all I know if that I do not know anything at all. There were some Jews which Chabon called “black hats” I can’t tell if that is a synonym for hasidic or not but there were different groups of “black hats” that obeyed laws that I’d never heard of. The story focused on one group called the Verbovers. The Verbovers are, as far as I can tell a fictional group. I’m glad for that because if not this book could have made of them what Dan Brown made of the Opus Dei. They were portrayed as strange overly pious gangsters. While that was clearly fictional I wonder if there are tensions between certain communities or sects of Judaism that the secular world knows nothing about. There were laws and occupations and concepts that I never would have dreamed of. One such law had to do with the Sabbath and what could be carried out of the house on the Sabbath. There was a guy who was called a boundary mason and it was his job to construct boundaries made of string so that people could stay in certain zones and not break any Sabbath laws. I’m not explaining it all that well but it was great in that it was something that my own mind never would have fathomed and I go the idea that boundary masons do actually exist because it seemed too outlandish to have been made up. Maybe it was though. Chabon seems to have that degree of unbridled imagination.
My Yiddish vocabulary has increased about 500% I hope some of the words are stored in my long-term memory because many of them were truly entertaining. I read an article by Chabon that the saddest book he’d ever owned was a Yiddish language book, the kind meant to help tourists get around. I wonder how many people still speak Yiddish fluently. Before reading this novel I didn’t realize it was a language that anyone ever spoke fluently. I thought it was a kind of elaborate slang used by certain types of grandmother. I hope that’s not a horribly offensive statement. I simply didn’t know. I’m realizing more and more that I’m an exceedingly ignorant human being. I recently tried my hand at a quiz involving the flags of different nations. Not only could I not identify the flags, I couldn’t tell you with any amount of certainly which continent some of the countries that came up are on.
God Bless America?
Also, I finished the book for Arizona but that will have to be a separate post because my right foot is asleep and I actually have homework to do. Oh! and it’s New Year’s Eve. Yes there’s that and I have…plans. Ha! No I don’t because social gatherings are actually the worst.