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The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon in the mad, slipstream flow of words that this 'review' will consist of, one might suppose the only animating concept or ideology is that of volume above all. "quantity has its own quality," said, apocryphally, Mao, leading to such military humor as "how many Chinese hordes came over the ridgeline today? A: three. I shot two, and the other guy ran away." the horde-like fascination of the East Asian swarm; the "hive mind," the group of indistinguishable individuals--I think I don't necessarily err in beginning the review in this way. I think, though, it isn't too much either to say simply


Manifesto.2014 is sort of a proposal to ease out of the crisis of 2013. as everyone even half awake knows, a civil war erupted on GR last year, and although probably hostilities won't reach the same fever pitch of the chaotic flow of '13, of course there's going to be a simmering level of something or another this year. in fact (full disclosure: I am related by blood to Amazon legal, though I haven't spoken to her in years and she works on the mobile devices rather the social networks), sources indicate that even the conflict itself a topic of conflicting reports. does GR simply impose absolutist protocols on the reviewers and accept attrition as a fact  of life? or does it side with even the Carpetbomber Air Bombardment Wing and open a new front in the timeless struggles of the publishing industry? I would tend to think situations like these call for a tangential response-- i.e., Amazon should hand out free gift cards to all the top reviewers while simultaneously maintaining patrol on auto-1/star accounts, but, you know, you don't necessarily get promoted for doing the obvious, and in any case, feelings might have hardened already too much in all camps... (but as they say, the consequences can't be known fully for now).

Manifesto.2014 is about the promotion of the Subjective Viewpoint. and by "Subjective Viewpoint," I meant exactly what is being demonstrated here, in this very text. that is, we've reached the third paragraph, but nothing has yet been written about the book. thus, we have the same exact situation as prevails between the celebrity reviewers and the Stop the Bullies Mafia: neither can exist without the other. nor can I, part of the Heartland Gentlehomme School of Being Nice to Writers notice anything except that a feedback cycle exists as well here, as 100% off-topic remarks lead ultimately to consumption only by the most fanatic of reader fanatics themselves. the relationship is also gendered, as there is a slight statistical preponderance of male writers and female readers. we exist, therefore, in karmic unity, never achieving, but never falling apart.

now in one concession to the karmic reader balance, I will note that 15% of my reading involves the UK and roughly 15% of my reading is written by or about the Japan. almost 10% of my reading involves Jewish culture, people, or the state. ~however~ Wikipedia reports that there some countless millions of Brits (more if you count 'Americans of at least part English, Welsh, Scottish ancestry'), and that Japan, too, totals some 110 million plus. according to WP, there are only some 20 million Jews in this world, although WP apparently can't calculate the full number of intermarried and assimilated and 'very small fraction of blood' Jews. in all though, statistics would seem to indicate a disproportionate output of writing, both fiction and non-fiction, by Jews, and so, without even planning it that ways, we have made one approach to the objective YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION.

the obvious thing to do at this point, and what the objective reviewer would do, is to use this evident hook to delve deeper into the objective truth of the work. but wait, this is simultaneously a thesis about subjective reviews and an illustration of the same. if everyone agrees that even newspaper-standard objective reviews are two facts and then a long personal theory by the reviewer (and at least one highly regarded GR reviewer has this as their Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell quote), then why simply aren't there more subjective reviews? and why is GR populated by so many fanatics, a larger group of big fans, and then that huge lurker crowd? I'm not sure I could provide an answer to this; nor am I sure that if I edited this piece to New Yorker quality erudition, that we would necessarily come closer to anything, anything at all. I'm relying more on a sense of deliberate impression or oblique commentary. I don't have to bring up the fact that I personally instructed a senior ADL director about early 50s Israeli history or that the fact that my parents were born in the 1930s and had me about as late as biologically possible makes me, technically, your parents' generation. these things exist, as do all matters, in a vacuum, unrelated, and unaffecting. finally, I should avoid the cheap humor of pointing out that the GR Anti-Defenestration League or "good guy reviewers" couldn't exist on their own either. We need the critical, acerbic, edgy, hostile critical critic. Goodreads needs you more than you need GR.

The proper, Subjectivist, analytical trope, now, is to talk, instead, about book acquisition circumstances. It's completely germane.

This is what happened. I had revisited the Shibuya Bookoff in search of Lethem's AMNESIA MOON (300 yen?), but in the space of 24 hours it disappeared and then I ended up with Scott Westerfield's UGLIES. Further investigation revealed much of nothing at all. There's a near paperthin J version of Iceberg Slim ("light novels" are huge in J writing these days). There's copies of THE ENGLISH PATIENT and John Ringo and Shusaku Endo's SILENCE. There's the prospect of finally cracking open Ian Rankin or Ian Banks. Here or there I might jump into a Cormac McArthy or a Tom Clancy or Grisham. But, pricing being what it is, 300 yen for YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION lept out. 800 yen brand new, or $12 in many a bookstore (after markup). What a find.

What I already knew was that the work had won the Huge/Nebula although being alternative history rather than "Science Fiction." Classic mutual convergence of interests, as the Huge/Nebula sought slipstream grandeur and Harper Collins enjoyed more sales. The premise, a "Jewish autonomous state in Alaska, on the verge of reverting to US control" could have been other things.

* The work could have been about a small group of Jewish violinists, classical pianists, and ballet dancers, the last repository of European culture in a world submitting to super American crass and commercial dominance. Vaguely trying to assemble some sort of solution against reversion against a backdrop of fjords, glaciers, and arctic fog banks, ultimately everything listlessly dissolves into a nostalgia ridden evocation of old europe in the north.

* alternatively, the work could have followed a highly politicized and fanatic group of independence terrorists (/slash freedom fighters) who are slowly hunted down and whittled away by US security forces. playing off Doris Lessing's GOOD TERRORIST, the work could have ended either mutely tragically or ambiguously disastrously. with personalities such as "Joshua" the eye-glasses wearing intellectual, "Oren" the muscle man and machine gunner, "Miriam" the political strategist and financier, the small group dynamics would have played out against, again, all the fog and glaciers and mountains

* or finally, three, Chabon could have mashed up Richard Ford and Herzog rather than Raymond Chandler and Roman Polanski, so to speak. it might have been very interesting to see what Long Island and Manhasset would look like with an Alaskan Jewish Autonomous Zone rather than Alaska itself. from percodin-sniffing housewives to SAT-cramming teenagers, what aspect of Jewish American culture would seem familiar to our eyes and what entirely different?

in constructing these three alternative scenarios, I think I've pointed at least to some degree what YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION was not.  and so to that degree, I've held true to the Subjectivist Thesis. and it being 2014 and a new year, heck why not, start it off with a 5/5 and recommend for an experiment, a mash-up, and a riff. bearing similarities to MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN and all the other tips of the hat, and inspiring the ca. 2005 "my mother is a ukrainian tractor with everything illuminated" wave of similar Jewish identity / culture books, YPU succeeded in its statistical goals, and if a certain subtle Zionist undertone is also present, well that is the cost of entry, so to speak, to the author's private and now public world