Samuel Freedman on Michael Chabon’s ‘Love Letter to Exile and Dispossession’

Michael Chabon

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon’s latest novel “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” set in an imagined Jewish homeland in Alaska, has drawn critical raves. But it also elicited a widely discussed New York Post item provocatively titled, “NOVELIST’S UGLY VIEW OF JEWS.”

Barbs flung by the wildly sensationalistic Post are easy to laugh off, and Chabon did just that, telling the rival Daily News: “My mother, when she saw this item in the Post, she was kvelling. She said, ‘Now you know you’ve arrived as a Jewish-American writer. When you’ve been condemned by other Jews as an anti-Semite, you know you’ve made it.’”

Now, however, comes a biting critique from a more reputable corner: Columbia journalism professor and New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman.

Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Freedman calls Chabon’s book “a love letter to exile and dispossession. Its satire has the effect, intended or not, of treating Israel as something simultaneously fanatical and ridiculous.”

Freedman writes:

In conclusion, Freedman throws down the gauntlet, contrasting Chabon’s satirical take on the Jewish predicament unfavorably with those of Philip Roth and Anne Roiphe and suggesting that Chabon is “apparently imbued with the belief that Israel is a colonial, imperialistic oppressor.”

Freedman suggests that Chabon’s views on Israel may have been influenced by his wife and fellow literary eminence Ayelet Waldman, who in her youth made aliyah to Israel, and even briefly served in the IDF, before becoming disillusioned and returning to the United States. She has written, “Ask me now and I will tell you that the Zionist dream, the very notion of Eretz Yisrael, the idea and the ideal for which I expected and was prepared to fight, has turned bitter in my mouth.”

Freedman’s full article is here.

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Samuel Freedman on Michael Chabon’s ‘Love Letter to Exile and Dispossession’

Thank you!

This article has been sent!