I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
As the title promises, this novel by Michael Chabon is interesting and unique. The story is a unique mix of history revision, mystery, character redemption and romance, and poetic setting description.
I do recommend this read. What follows are some details about the story as well as my own experience reading the novel. (I don’t give away plot spoilers, but if you want to read the book and go into it fresh, without prior knowledge of the story’s unique setting and without having heard someone else’s opinion on the book, you may want to quit reading this post here.)
– – –
In the world of this story, the country of Israel was not created in 1948, and the Jews remained scattered. Many were sent to a special reservation in Alaska called Sitka. And in this story, the District of Sitka is getting ready to be reverted back to Alaska, scattering the Jews once again.
The story focuses on the struggles of the main character, Meyer Landsman, a detective with the Sitka Police who uses alcohol to dull the pain of his recent divorce and the death of his sister. A particular case comes along that grips him so much he can’t stop working on it, even when he’s told to. Working on the case leads him to big, unsettling discoveries—and his own personal demons.
I enjoyed the novel and am glad I read it, even though I did not care for the writing style. I hesitated to even say that. Who am I to criticize a Pullitzer-Prize-winning author? But well, I’m a reader, that’s who. And I personally thought the writing was painfully slow and excessively poetic—and I’m usually one to like poetic prose! My friend pointed out that the writing style gives the book a thoughtful, savoring feel. That may be true for her. For me, it was more like traffic-jam slowness, and the only reason I stuck with it was because the story was unique and the characters were interesting and earned my sympathy.
Nevertheless, here is one passage of poetic prose that I found especially beautiful and profound:
“It never takes longer than a few minutes, whenever they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That’s what a family is. Also the storm at sea, the ship, and the unknown shore. And the hats and the whiskey stills that you make out of bamboo and coconuts. And the fire that you light to keep away the beasts.” (p. 309)