Monday, July 28, 2008

chabon's yiddish mystery

The last three months have been a little rough, what with being in and out of the hospital a couple of times. A gall bladder wasn't doing its job anymore—it suddenly died—and had to be jettisoned. However, it didn't go quietly; complications arose afterward. When something like that is finally over with, and a sense of good health returns, it's something like an epiphany.

Before all that started, I'd been reading "Spud," by John Van De Ruit. I'd seen mention of it in several blogs that review YA literature, and the storyline sounded promising. A boy attends a boarding school in South Africa, and has to engage a rigorous educational regimen while fitting in amongst a disparate, and unruly group of boys in his dorm house. I was hoping for something like the classic "Tom Brown's School Days," which had made such a deep impression on me as a young reader. Tom Brown it was not, but was more of a slapstick, goofy series of escapades by the boys. Some of the plot elements might have led somewhere, like Spud being picked to play the lead role in "Oliver," but I'm afraid I lost interest midway.

As I've been convalescing, I've finished reading Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union." A very imaginative story—the U.S. government has temporarily settled Jews, driven from Palestine in the 1948 war (a 'what-if' fabrication), into their own, self-governing enclave in Alaska. However, the land is soon to revert back to the State of Alaska, and the Jews will have to leave. There is a plan to this madness, and Chabon weaves it well. Meanwhile, Detective Meyer Landsman of the Yiddish Police Department has a murder to solve, involving a Messiah, a fundamentalist, "black hat" Jewish sect, and loads of intriguing Yiddish lore, all of which are intricately threaded into the plot.

Chabon's writing style is often remarkable, with his choice of similes, and metaphors, and descriptive details. Sometimes the similes are stretched a bit, but they're so darn good you forgive him. A really good writer.
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