The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon

Chabon won the Sci-Fi Triple Crown in 2007 (Nebula, Locus & Hugo) with this fantastic bit of alternate history wrapped up in a detective story. It’s been on my list since then, but I’ve only just now gotten around to reading it.

The underlying premise is that during World War II s Jewish state was set up in Alaska due to Congress voting to implement the Slattery Report. As a result, fewer Jews died in the Holocaust, but for various reasons the State of Israel was destroyed after only three months in 1948 in a more brtual version of the Arab-Israeli War. There are various other things hinted at, a Cuban War in which some characters are veterans of, JFK living to marry Marilyn Monroe, etc. Everything is set in Sitka, the center of the Jewish State in Alaska.

The action is set in the months leading up to the “Reversion” of the Sitka territory to American control and the displacement of the Jewish population. The main character is an alcoholic homicide detective who investigates a murder in the hotel he resides in and with his partner (who is half-Jewish, half-Tlingit) discovers a plot led by the local organized crime bosses to deal with the Reversion with backing from American Jews and Zionists.

The back-story is incredibly well done, I suspect I would have had a deeper enjoyment of the book if I had a Jewish background–I think there were likely a number of things that simply went over my head due to a lack of depth of knowledge of Jewish culture. He also wasn’t afraid to potentially be offensive to paint the picture he wanted to of Jewish life in Sitka.

And that said, good alternate history is right up there with post-apocalyptic ficiton as some of my favorite sci-fi themes, and this was very well done. And like all truly excellent sci-fi, made you think about some of our current political issues in a different way. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who also loves an excellent detective story.