Michael Chabon's Latest Novel Creates a Whole New World

By Behe, Regis | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 29, 2007 | Go to article overview

Michael Chabon's Latest Novel Creates a Whole New World


Behe, Regis, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


There's an ongoing joke in Michael Chabon's new novel, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" (HarperCollins, $26.95).

Every so often, a character says, "It's a strange time to be a Jew," the irony being that Jewish existence has been nothing if not marked by strangeness.

"These times that I'm presenting are just yet another version of that," Chabon says the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and University of Pittsburgh graduate.

Except Chabon's work exists only by way of his imagination. "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" takes a forgotten kernel of history -- a proposition to establish an Alaskan homeland for Jews displaced by the Nazi pogroms of the late 1930s and early 1940s -- and creates an alternate history: What if Jews had been transported to Sitka, on the southeastern finger of land of what was then the Alaskan territory, and given the wherewithal to establish a community?

In Chabon's fictional world -- circa 2007 -- it's a place where "yids" and "shtarkers" smoke "papiros" and knock back shots of slivovitz. They frequent a diner where noodle pudding, stuffed cabbage and blintzes are daily offerings. Meyer Landsman, the protagonist, is a Jewish Sam Spade, a prototypical hangdog detective, divorced and living in what amounts to a flophouse.

Chabon cast Landsman as an officer of the law so "he would have access to all levels of society," he says. "All doors would be open to him. He can go anywhere. He can talk to anyone. He has the sanction, he has the badge."

As he was creating Landsman, Chabon was also reading stories by Isaac Babel, the Russian Jewish writer born in 1894 and author of "Odessa Tales." Babel's work had a familiar resonance, and, one day, Chabon made a connection.

"I was really struck by and noticed a kinship there between his work and the hard-boiled tradition of the detective novel," Chabon says "That very unsentimental presentation of violence in Babel coupled with this strange lyricism and this fabulous use of simile that, in particular, that you find in Raymond Chandler. It was that sudden moment of insight, that there is this strange continuity -- and it's a Jewish continuity between Chandler and Isaac Babel -- that gave me the key to writing this novel."

The template of creating a world from scratch came was borrowed form another of Chabon's ventures. After winning the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for literature for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," he wrote a children's novel, "Summerland." The techniques he developed with that book served him well when he was creating the architecture of "The Yiddish Policemen's Union."

"I definitely felt like I stretched my idea of just how much inventing, how much world creation, I could do and was able to do and was willing to do, and in a way, almost was permitted to do in my work," Chabon says. "I think writing 'Summerland' definitely took me farther. Although that book, I guess you can see that as transitional, because it's rooted in a consensus reality that we all live in, but then steps into another reality, and returns again at the end. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Michael Chabon's Latest Novel Creates a Whole New World
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.