Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Moby-Dick and Yiddish Policemen's Union

Reading Moby-Dick (see many previous posts on Thinkulous by using the search field, above) has reminded me, in its marked flavor of uniqueness of thought and -- principally -- its ambition, of the work of one of my other favorite authors, also impressive for the volume of his output: Michael Chabon.

Chabon approaches most projects with Melville’s wild, voracious appetite gleaming in his eyes. He spends endless months at libraries, on-line and on the phone interviewing experts. I get the feeling that if he can’t learn, by heart and to the last detail, three or four complete and complex worlds before starting a book, it just doesn’t seem worth it to him to begin. And, like Melville, he writes long -- sometimes, a bit too long, but I forgive him because of the sheer joy of reading his language and plots.

In his latest, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union , he weaves in relatively seamlessly (and in that sense, he is very different from Melville) entire continents of secular Jewish history, sociology, linguistics and psychology; large swatches of Judaism both obscure and well-known; technical, historical and cultural perspectives on the game of chess; multiple themes of immigrant life and persecution; half the extant language of Yiddish, plus a bunch of Yiddish words he repurposed for the story… oh, yes, and a complete and self-contained film noir culture and plot. All while conjuring, to the minutest door-hinge, an alternate-Israel, surreally established in Alaska in the late 1940s and grown to fruition, and then spoliage, since then.

Try that, Melville!


DJ Cayenne said...

Think: That's a nice post. I'm a big fan of Chabon's, but I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read Melville. Yet.

Thinkulous said...

Thanks, DJ, I appreciate your stopping by!

I was hesitant about Moby-Dick, but I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable reads I've experienced.

Took a while, though!