Squatting Sitka

Bottle Imp gave me a copy of The Yiddish Policemen's Union and what a cool it has turned out to be.

In 1939, apparently there was an idea that the US would allow Jewish refugees to live in a district in frozen Alaska. Does that sound insane? Well not very much more than Polish refugees living in Palestine? The idea for this temporary settlement was actually floated and supported by a Secretary of State but rejected by the Congress.

But Michael Chabon imagines the unfolding of a world in which Congress allowed this to happen. Waves of Jewish refugees come to live in Sitka, Alaska. There is no Israel. Decades pass as Sitka turns into an all-Yiddish speaking, independent dominion. Decades later, the US decides to revoke the dominion's independent status and the Jews must once more emigrate or hope for US citizenship. Eleven weeks before the Reversion, detective Meyer Landsman finds a murdered chess player in a rundown hotel. One more inexplicable crime to solve before his whole police department disappears.

Chabon's wonderful, gratifyingly huge leap of imagination is made the background for a good hard-boiled crime novel resulting in a very satisfying book. My only complain is an excessively frequent use of metaphor. The old man's body closed like a fist around the table... yes, yes, move on, Chabon.

Chabon is the kind of wierd item that pops ever now and then like Zadie Smith, sending the publishing business into equal parts pain and pleasure. How great that this will sell. How great that we can't produce it in a factory. Chabon wins the Pulitzer but runs wild in pop-culture territory. Critics love him and his books are turned into movies. So how does the book business respond? The book is treated in the 'zany' category. And it gets this annoying book jacket.

'Zany' for unusual wit is only matched by 'snarky' for unusual women.


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