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The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: Chasing the curly locks of the end.

Posted by goldwriting on April 7, 2008

If you stare closely at this cover and relax your eyes, you’ll see a schooner.

Only on rare occasions can you walk out of a movie and say, “You know what, that was just as good as the book. I’m shocked.” For that to happen two things need to come together, a superb writer with a cinematic mind and a visionary director who appreciates and respects the original literary work. I can only think of a twinkling of titles that fall under that elusive ray of sunlight:

American Psycho (book written by Bret Easton Ellis, film directed by Mary Harron)

The Basketball Diaries (book written by Jim Carroll, film directed by Scott Kalvert)

The Crow (graphic novel written by James O’Barr, film directed by Alex Proyas)

Fight Club (book written by Chuck Palanhuik, film directed by David Fincher)

The Princess Bride (book written by William Goldman, film directed by Rob Reiner)

The Outsiders (book written by S.E. Hinton, film directed by Francis Ford Coppola)

You might be wondering what this list has to do with this book review, if anything at all, but here it is. The most important entry to this list:

Wonder Boys (book written by Michael Chabon, film directed by Curtis Hanson)

I actually did see the movie before reading that book, but I was amazed by how well it had been translated to film. Going back and watching the movie again I was able to fully appreciate both mediums the story was presented in and I felt they really complimented each other. So my excitement was instantly peaked when the Coen Brothers announced that they acquired the rights to adapt Michael Chabon’s latest book, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. People were already sending me giddy whispers about how good this book was, so it already had a place on my reading list, but the Coen Brothers helped escort it up the red carpet to the top.

The story surrounds a rugged policeman on the end of a social and lifelong bender. What seems like an innocuous suicide in the room below him sends him spiraling down a road lined with Yiddish mafias, ghosts of relationships past, familial bonds kept and broken, topped off nicely with a dollop of worldwide religious revolution. Our dogged protagonist, Detective Meyer Landsman, didn’t see this all coming when he woke up that morning, but his lockjaw determination won’t let him be swayed from finding the truth behind the black hats and black badges placed in front of him. Landsman is the classic take-it-on-the-chin hero, treading the shoes of Jake from Chinatown and Rick from Casablanca. Once the problem is unleashed in his brain, it itches and itches until he breaks each and every rule to find the calm inside his mental storm.

Growing up in a Jewish family I figured I would be able to follow along with the lingo and traditions mentioned in the book, but the level of detail is intense and intimidating. Admittedly it took me a few chapters to finally wrap my head around what each term meant, as examples: “sholem” for “gun” and “shoyfer” for “cell phone”. Chabon paints the town of Stika, Alaska and its Yiddish contingent wonderfully, their traditions, their struggles and their dedication to the cause, whatever that cause might be since each faction inside the group was different. Each upturned stone shows a deeper hole to crawl down and the ropes and strings begin to pull the fragmented pieces of the story together into one amazing and meticulous tale.

Still reeling from the brilliance of “No Country for Old Men” I can only imagine how the Coen Brothers will bring this to life. I’m sure it will be a sight to see and like sprinkles on a warm, red velvet cupcake, Chabon’s words will be a delight to hear. Supposedly there are a couple of other films in line for the dynamic duo of directors, so you all have time to run out, pick up this book and let it live with you, as it now lives with me.

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