The Yiddish Policeman's Union

The Yiddish Policeman's Union

A Novel

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
Rate this:

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.

Publisher: New York : HarperCollins, 2007
ISBN: 9780007149827
Characteristics: 414 p. ;,24 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Apr 01, 2018

This novel served as my introduction to the concept of alternative histories - fascinating idea, that. Chabon writes up a very believable world of post WWII America-ish Alaska with a yiddish accent; and he knows about gangsters, too! It is a steady paced & amusing read. Be prepared to ask people or google yiddish words and slang...which lead me to an essay about the loss of a culture & a language, by same author. The warm funny tones of yiddish overpower the gritty noir ishness of the story, in my memory.

Mar 29, 2018

One of my favorite novels, I had to reread it to appreciate the story and characters fully. Patience will be rewarded!

Jan 16, 2018

This is a murder mystery set in a Sitka that might have existed had the hopes of a Jewish homeland in the frozen north of Alaska come to pass after 1949 instead of the turbulent Israel we have today. Meyer Landsman, a down and out homicide detective living in a flea-bag building, is confronted with investigating a murder of a neighbour. We follow his trail and get a strong sense of the city with its many dark spots, marking it as just like any other city, except for the bitter cold. Crimes of every kind; competing gangs and factions to be wary of. The game of chess and the promised return of the Messiah figure prominently in the array of clues Freedman has to work with. The beginning was a bit of a struggle until I got into the rhythm of the writing and the progression of the plot. The introduction of many yiddish words and phrases were a bit of a distraction as I don"t know much (or any) yiddish, but they didn't figure prominently in the bones of the story so I didn't get lost. I did enjoy the story but the draggy beginning was a bit of a chore to get through.

Aug 07, 2017

Absolutely one of my favourite novels ever.....I want to go to that gritty, mystical Sitka that Michael Chabon invented and stay awhile....

LeRat Jun 06, 2016

An odd blend of future history, noir, and literary fiction. Chabon's ability to turn a clever phase is without doubt, but the lengthy descriptions detract from the plot making this seeming detective yarn into a bit of a plod.

Jul 08, 2015

Didn't finish. Not a compelling plot and too much yiddish jargon/reference to plod through.

ChristchurchLib Oct 21, 2013

"Imagine if tiny Sitka, Alaska, had been annexed as a temporary territory for homeless Jews after World War II. This odd proposition makes for a wonderfully surreal setting populated by rabbis, chess masters, and ultra-orthodox gangsters. In the midst of all this is Meyer Landsman, a depressed, alcoholic, and irreligious Jewish homicide cop who's only got a couple months to figure out who murdered a heroin-addicted former chess prodigy and gangster before Sitka reverts to Alaska and Sitka's Jews find themselves homeless once more. "Impressively wacky," says The New York Times." Fiction A to Z October 2013 newsletter

Jun 08, 2012

Relentlessly inventive novelist Michael Chabon invents a new genre, the dystopian hardboiled alternative history mystery. His hero, Meyer Landsman, is an alcoholic cop in Sitka, the makeshift resettlement territory established for the Jews in the desolate, dark reaches of Alaska after the promised Jewish homeland turned to ashes in 1949. When a middle-aged junkie is found dead in the fleabag hotel Landsmann calls home, he persuades his reluctant partner and cousin, the half Jewish/half Tlingit Berko Shemets, to join him in the investigation. Chabon serves up a rich stew of dark and demonized characters in a book that is as improbably believable as an episode of The Sopranos crossed with Philip Roth's The Contract Against America. Note: keep a copy of Leo Rosten's The Joy of Yiddish handy. Unless you grew up in one of the 5 boroughs, you'll need it.

Jun 22, 2011

Mainstream author who is not a genre snob. An feat of alternate history, very evocative about Jewish identity, and a damn good noir mystery too.

Jan 24, 2011

V interesting detective/mystery, fast paced. Funny. Lots of Jewish words thrown into the dialogue - takes awhile to figure out what some of them are but good fun.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top