The Yiddish Policemen's Union (4)

The actual novel Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union comprises 411 pages, including the prefatory quote:
And they went to sea in a sieve -- Edward Lear
But there is also back matter, consisting of a glossary, author's note [acknowledgments] , bio of the author, "The Frozen Chosen" by Patricia Cohen, "Guidebook to a Land of Ghosts" by Michael Chabon, blurbs about Chabon's other fiction, advert for the CD audio of the book performed by actor Peter Riegert.

Cohen's essay, originally published in The New York Times, gives us a portrait of Chabon in the real Sitka, Alaska, along with his thoughts about the construction of his fictional universe. Apparently, in reality Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, actually in 1940 did support opening up the Alaska territory to European Jews. Chabon got in hot water for his essay triggered by his reaction to the 1958 phrase book Say It in Yiddish, and started thinking about an imaginary Yiddishland. Cohen describes the real Sitka and its Jewish and other inhabitants. From the interview with Chabon, we learn that Chabon found an affinity between Isaac Babel in English and hard-boiled detective fiction. Also about Chabon's approach to style:"I felt like I had to invent a whole new language, a dialect." He explains the creation of his own slang as well as his approach to the characters and detective fiction generally.

Cohen was motivated by the themes of destiny and chosenness, and wondering what the world would be like minus the state of Israel. "How mad it seems that this tiny little scrap of land [would be central in global geopolitics] . . . . I have a very strong feeling of complete ambivalence about a world without Israel . . . . I didn't come in with a point to prove or an agenda."

Chabon's 1997 essay on Yiddish, which appeared in Harper's magazine, is reprinted in the book. He takes Uriel and Beatrice Weinreich's Say It in Yiddish as an exercise in futility. As Yiddish had been abandoned by Israel for Hebrew, leaving surviving Yiddish speakers stranded in limbo, the actual application of Yiddish to contemporary situations--booking a plane flight, for example--to be fantasy. Hence Chabon fantasizes about an alternative Yiddish-speaking homeland. Would its denizens be as rough and tough as Israelis? And here is the germ of his future novel. And then he wonders what Jewish Europe would have been like had it been spared the Holocaust.

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