Monday, January 25, 2010

My homeland is in my hat.

Can the arrival of the Messiah only mean disappointment for those who had expected something more? The dream of possible redemption may motivate a handful of refugees stranded far from their promise land but Michael Chabon's brilliantly crafted hero, Detective Michael Landsman, has learned the hard way that placing hope in an undefined fate is a dangerous gift discovered from within and that one is better off not to lose it. Using the typical crime genre plot as a blueprint, Chabon constructs a perplexing alternate reality where Jews now occupy the icy metropolis of Sitka, Alaska. Hustling weapons for the next possible resistance or flooding the streets with cheap heroin alongside your Hasidic brotherhood must now fall within the boundaries of the Talmudic law. Rabbis are kingpins and an entire people know that they're desolate time on this planet is running out (thanks to their not so accommodating southern neighbors). Within these dreary circumstances, a murder is waiting to be solved by our neglectfully erratic detective. Questions of Jewish identity are thoughtfully embedded throughout this comical take on the mystery novel. Yes, it has its share of cliches(surprise informants, family revenge, and an out-of-place partner), but every twist is so masterfully blended into this murky yet somehow recognizable imagery that it comes out like the first drag of a cigarette, chokingly thick but still incredibly enjoyable. Chabon's sharp eye for detail and wordplay make The Yiddish Policemen's Union one of the best reads I've had in recent memory and news of a possible Cohen brothers adaptation is definitely something to get excited about.

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