30 April 2007

The Frozen Chosen: What if?

Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is located in the imaginary city of Sitka, which is not quite like the real town. From the New York Times, read this review by Patricia Cohen.

Mr. Chabon takes a historical footnote, a pie-in-the-sky proposal to open up the Alaska Territory in 1940 to European Jews marked for extermination, and asks: What if? What if this proposal, which in real life was supported by the secretary of the interior, Harold Ickes, but killed in Congress, had actually passed? What if Jews had poured into a frigid island instead of the Middle Eastern desert, and the state of Israel had never been created? What if the small settlement of Sitka had grown into a teeming Jewish homeland, a land not of milk and honey but of salmon and lumber?

Chabon visited Alaska in 2004 and selected Sitka as the home for the imaginary millions of European Jews saved from the terror and their children and grandchildren. The book describes the eve of Reversion, when the land is to be returned to the Alaskans and the Jews kicked out.

Cohen describes her visit to the real Sitka and meetings with its Jewish residents, describes the first Jewish wedding there (the menu featured H&H bagels flown in from New York), Alaska's wildlife and the Nugget Restaurant's famous banana cream pie (featured in the novel).

For the book, Mr. Chabon dug into New York’s underworld slang, filling in at spots with his own linguistic creations. A latke is a beat cop and a sholem is a gun — a bit of wordplay, as “sholem” in Yiddish means peace, and “piece” is slang for gun in English. The powerful local mafia is made up of Hasidic Jews with payess, long curling sidelocks.

In the book, Chabon used the name of his grandmother's shtetl, Verbov, for the Hasidic sect that runs "his" Sitka.

Definitely on my to-read list.

1 comment:

  1. Danny Verbov11:25 AM

    Hi Schelly,

    Do you have any more information about this shtetl called Verbov?

    As you can see, I have a very personal interest in that name!

    Danny Verbov