Jess Walter in Publishers Weekly aptly called The Yiddish Policemen’s Union a “murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller”. Chabon has imagined a world in which the Jews inhabit a temporary homeland in Alaska, having lost the war for Israel in the 1940’s.
We split down the middle on this unusual detective story. Some readers never wanted the book to end; others had to force themselves to finish. Those who loved it talked about the vivid setting, the dark yet life-affirming tone, the playfully brilliant writing and quirky characters. Readers who were not amused found the plot over-complex and the Yiddish vocabulary off-putting. I found it enjoyable yet exhausting.
As always, related titles were part of the discussion. Philip Roth’s alternative history, The Plot Against America asked, what if Charles Lindbergh had been elected President in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt? Russell Hoban in Riddley Walker and Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange both created new languages for their characters.