Overall, this premise had a lot of potential, and even the ways that Chabon imagined his Alaska seemed very realistic. However, something about it just didn't click with me, and as a result I wouldn't recommend it. I think it was mostly a pacing issue for me, but I'm not even entirely sure if that was entirely it. This was actually my second attempt at this novel, and the first time I started it I didn't even get past the first chapter, so it might have been that noir type language. While I don't have much experience with noir mysteries, I also remember finding Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep tedious and boring. Based on that, maybe it was more of a genre issue.
I feel like there was quite a lot about this novel that was interesting. The Jewish community in Alaska felt very much like East European Jewish communities that have been described in countless other books, and there is a large very orthodox community in the center of the city. Despite this, I just didn't really enjoy the novel that much. It was a bit of a noir style mystery, but I couldn't say I was that interested in the mystery. I'm not sure if it was too slowly plotted or if it involved too many tangents, but this novel was not a joy to pick up, and felt a bit like a chore. I remember reading the The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and barely being able to put it down. I was barely able to make myself pick this one up.
The idea behind The Yiddish Policemen's Union is that Israel failed, and during World War II, the US had opened up the borders of Alaska to Jewish refugees. As a result, the history around World War II is slightly different, with the Holocaust having a slightly lesser death toll. However, the Jewish community was only granted the land for a period of time, and in about two months, their lease effectively ends. Some people have been granted permission to stay on, others have found other countries to take them in but overall the future is a big question mark for the majority of the characters. Meyer Landsmen, an alcoholic cop, living in a rundown motel, is one of these lost souls. At the beginning of the novel, he is called to look at a fellow motel dwellers' body - the man, a junkie, has been killed. Though he is told to ignore the case and list it as a cold case to ease the transition in the next month, he cannot let it go, and with only the clues that the victim was once religious and played chess, he pursues the case and discovers the man's identity.