The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007) by Michael Chabon
I have to admit, this is one of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen on a book. Ever. And the story between the covers? Equally fantastic!
This, my first Chabon novel, was recommended to me by a good friend a couple of years ago. I had wanted to read Chabon, but my TBR pile was huge and I just never got around to it. Until I finally went out and snagged a copy of YPU.
So I read it and was so blown away, I told my mom about it, who read it and told one of my brothers about it. Basically, this is the only novel that all three of us have read around the same time and discussed. Fun times, man, fun times.
If you like alternate history novels, well, this was written for you. Chabon has imagined a world in which Jewish refugees from the Holocaust were settled in Sitka, Alaska during WWII, while the people fighting to create the state of Israel were beaten, which means that now most of the world's Jews are concentrated in the United States.
Sitka was only meant to be a temporary stopping place for the Jewish refugees, but over time, with nowhere else to go, the Yiddish-speaking descendants settled into their frozen lives, trying to ignore the fact that soon they will be ejected from Alaska and have to find new homes.
Despite the bleak, depressing setting and the pent-up desperation in many of the characters, YPU conveys a rueful humor that perfectly reflects the attitude that shaped the Yiddish language itself, which coalesced in Eastern European shtetls amid pogroms and persecution.
The murder investigation at the heart of this novel leads to some pretty bizarre scenes, involving Orthodox Jews and the frozen Alaska wilderness and a plot to renew the fight for Israel. Chabon creates such a believable world that you have to stop every once in a while and remind yourself of what actually happened after the war.
It was this novel, then, that got me hooked on Chabon, and led me to read Telegraph Avenue, which was awesome, but didn't have the quirky weirdness of YPU. Of course, I'm planning on reading Kavalier and Clay, but that TBR pile...you know...