Monday, May 14, 2007

In Hopes of Selling Lots of Copies of Michael Chabon's Newest Novel, 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union,' We're Going to Drown You in His Internet Hype

Reprinted in whole from

In an essay about the 1958 travel guide "Say It in Yiddish" in Civilization magazine, Michael Chabon contemplated a country where "I'd do well to have a copy of 'Say It in Yiddish' in my pocket." Of course, not only had Chabon not found such a place but, he pointed out, "I don't believe anyone has."

Chabon, it seems, couldn't get this phantom Yiddish-speaking nation out of his head, and now he's gone and created the place himself. Welcome to Sitka, Alaska, the setting for his new novel, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," where the only "American" spoken is swear words. In this imaginary world without Israel, Sitka plays temporary home to Big Macher department stores, a thriving Chassid mafia, and some 3 million very cold Jews.

If less epic than "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," for which Chabon won the Pulitzer in 2001, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is no less ambitious. In addition to being a Chandleresque murder mystery, it deals with the Messiah, a secretive cabal not unlike the apocryphal Elders of Zion, Jewish-American relations and the perennial question of what it means to be a Jew. If all this sounds like too much, you may be right. But, as is the case in most of Chabon's novels, it is his characters, at once absurd and entirely familiar, that hold the story together. Here we have Meyer Landsman, a secular policeman with a bad case of the shakes, whose favorite daydream is to imagine the many ways he could take his own life; and his half-Indian partner Berko Shemets, a hammer-wielding gumshoe more devout than most of Sitka's Yids. "These are weird times to be a Jew" is the refrain of those in Sitka, and so, one feels, has it always been. Coming from Chabon, it is perhaps unsurprising that a fiction set in a fantastical place, told in a dying language, poses some of the most poignant, difficult questions about the Jewish homeland.

Salon caught up with Chabon in New York, a place he still fancies as "'Kavalier and Clay' land," where he spoke about why he likes being called anti-Semitic, what it's like being married to another writer, and why he's obsessed with Barack Obama.

For the full interview, click here.