Richly conceived and phenomenally detailed, Chabon’s Sitka is home to just the sort of improbable characters that populate Coen brothers films. It is the Coen brothers, after all, who gave the world The Dude, the hero of their 1998 film “The Big Lebowski,” a blissed-out stoner and bowling devotee who finds himself negotiating the return of a bimbo wife from her supposed kidnappers.
And their love of genre films, particularly screwball comedies and film noir, seems perfectly suited to a novel that contains distinct elements of both.
“The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was released to critical acclaim in 2007. But among some Jewish writers, the book created a sense of unease, and even barely suppressed outrage, some of which is sure to resurface when the film is released.
Claiming Chabon was sending a clear anti-Zionist message, Ruth Wisse, a noted Yiddish scholar at Harvard University, demolished the novel in a withering essay in Commentary magazine, calling it a “sustained act of provocation,” among other denigrations; Commentary’s editor-in-waiting John Podhoretz and journalist Samuel Freedman offered similar criticisms of the novel. A decidedly less scholarly view was expressed in a New York Post story, headlined “Novelist’s Ugly View of Jews.”
One can only imagine what these critics will have to say once the Coen brothers, with their Jewish fluency and twisted sense of humor, get their hands on Chabon’s prose.
The upcoming film is being produced by Scott Rudin, who reportedly bought the rights to the book five years ago, before it was even completed, and the film is not expected before mid-2009. But industry skeptics are rightly wary. The film version of one of Chabon’s earlier novels, the award-winning “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” has been reported to be in the works for years, with direction by another famous Jewish filmmaker, Sydney Pollack.
But regardless of whether the film version of “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” ever sees the light of day, the news alone has been enough to set the blogosphere on fire with overheated speculation.
“This is the greatest fit ever,” one Israel-based blogger heaved. “I can’t picture any other director tackling this book and doing it right. What a great fit. Yiddish Noir!!!”
In an interview last November, Chabon discussed with me the accusations that he was not only an anti-Zionist but an anti-Semite.