Monday, August 25, 2008

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

I just finished reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. I picked this book up because it won the 2007 Nebula Award and 2008 Hugo Award for best novel. At the time, I did not realize that the author had also won the 2001 Pultizer Prize for Fiction for his book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Generally, I prefer hard science fiction; The Yiddish Policemen's Union is not hard science fiction. The book essentially is an alternate history for the last seventy years. Instead of settling in Palestine after World War II, the Jews end up in Sitka, Alaska. Interestingly, this idea is based on a historical footnote. Promoted by then Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Congress actually rejected a proposal [The King-Havenner Bill of 1940] to open Alaska to Jewish emigration.

I did not realize that the book was set in Alaska when I bought it. Although we did not get to Sitka on our recent Alaskan Cruise and Land Tour, we were very close. There are some aspects of the book that ring true due to travels through that part of the world.

At its roots, the book is a detective novel. It uses a murder investigation to explore parts of the Jewish culture in this alternative history. For example, the idea of boundaries talked about in an article in today's Sacramento Bee play a part in the story.

Another plot point includes a red heifer. Oddly, one of the other science fiction books that I read this year, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, also included a red heifer in the story.

Without giving away the plot, the Alaskan Jews of this alternative timeline do not want to be in Alaska. They want to be in Palestine.

This is a very different book, but definitely one that I would recommend.

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