Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: 8/19/2010

yiddish policemen's unionJess Walter in Publishers Weekly aptly called The Yiddish Policemen’s Union a “murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller”. Chabon has imagined a world in which the Jews inhabit a temporary homeland in Alaska, having lost the war for Israel in the 1940’s.

We split down the middle on this unusual detective story. Some readers never wanted the book to end; others had to force themselves to finish.  Those who loved it talked about the vivid setting, the dark yet life-affirming tone, the playfully brilliant writing and quirky characters.  Readers who were not amused found the plot over-complex and the Yiddish vocabulary off-putting. I found it enjoyable yet exhausting.

As always, related titles were part of the discussion. Philip Roth’s alternative history, The Plot Against America asked, what if Charles Lindbergh had been elected President in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt?  Russell Hoban in Riddley Walker and Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange both created new languages for their characters.

Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, 7/15/2010

St. Peter PortOn the whole, the group enjoyed learning about relatively unknown aspect of World War II, savoring the revelation of character and plot through the long-lost art of letter-writing.  Most of us had known nothing about Guernsey – except the cows.  We enjoyed the characters, although a few were skeptical about the attraction between Juliet and Dawsey.  One of our members recalls the days when letters were so precious she would read them over and over again, practically memorizing the contents.  The Potato Peel Pie Society came close to being precious, but everyone took great pleasure in it anyway.

Readers were reminded of other recommended titles:

  • Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise (tells of the relationships between occupied and occupiers)
  • Island at War (2004 British TV series based on the lives of Channel Islanders during the occupation)