Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In Michael Chabon's alternate universe, several million Jews inhabit Sitka, Alaska, thanks to the fall of Israel in 1948. Their days are numbered, though, because their land is soon to revert back to the U.S. government, and everyone is scrambling to apply to stay. In the meantime, our protagonist, a stereotypical overweight, alcoholic, divorced cop, Meyer Landsman, now reports to his ex-wife Bina, for whom he carries a well-lit torch. Among the "frozen Chosen" are a group of Orthodox Mafiosi, who may be responsible for the death of a junkie chess player in the same sleazy hotel where Landsman lives. I had procrastinated about reading this book because of its reputation for a smattering of Yiddish. However, there was a lot more that I, with my WASP heritage, was in the dark about than just the language. In fact, what bothered me most was that Chabon is a little smug and arrogant as he tosses around Biblical references and whatnot, so much so that, in the end, I didn't totally follow who did what to whom, especially the U.S. government. I did get the general gist of it, though, and that was sufficient. The metaphors are a dime a dozen but all spot-on, although sometimes I had to read them twice. The dialog is colorful and sometimes so sarcastic that it's hard to know who are friends and who are enemies, and sometimes the line is just intentionally blurred, as with Inspector Willie Dick (the names!), a small man whose accoutrements are all 2/3 normal size. To me, although a lot happens, this book is more about the over-the-top playful and rather rambunctious style than the plot. It brings to mind the old noir detective stories with their perfunctory telling of events but in this case also with a raucous sense of humor. There's one particularly funny scene in which Landsman and his partner join his partner's father for a homemade dinner of moose chili, moose quiche, and moose meatballs—just before the old man tries to off himself.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

thats funny as my husband just recently brought this - I'll warn him about the plot elements!