The Wrap-up of the Week

The Book:  Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.   Everyone can agree that this is an odd book.  It is a combination of a rather ordinary detective novel (solitary man, living under an alias in a run down residential hotel, is found shot dead, with a single bullet hole in the back of his neck, execution style, with an unfinished chess game by his side; two detectives, formerly married to each other, are on the case; it turns out things are more complicated than at first glance), combined with an alternative history setting (Metropolitan Sitka, Alaska Territory, population 2+ million, almost all of them Jews, rescued from certain death in World War II Europe by the Roosevelt administration).  But there’s a catch.  The resettlement of the Jews is for a temporary period of 60 years, and the time is running out with no provision for an extension, or even resettlement.  So, there are global issues, and there are local issues and they entertwine.  The book is clever in its setting, its use of Yiddishisms (after all, the Sitka colony is Yiddish speaking), but the plot is not really very exceptional (I am not going to give it away), and the book on whole is diverting, and not much more.

The Exhibition.  The National Gallery has put together a large, first class exhibit of Roman life in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, at Pompeii, Herculaneum and elsewhere.  Frescoes, statuary, jewelry and serving pieces.  Photographs of archeological digs, and of raging volcanic action.  Reconstruction of luxury villas.  I was surprised not by the findings at Pompeii (where I have been several times), but at the large number of sea side villas which were strewn all along the Bay of Naples, owned by the elite of Roman business and politics.  One such villa was 800 feet in length.   A fantastic lifestyle.  Who would have thought it would ever end?

The Movies.  With the colder weather, I seem to have traded the gym, for the most part, for the home treadmill.  This means that I have turned the TV on a little more often, and watched a couple of movies I would not otherwise have seen.  Specifically, the 1964 James Bond movie “From Russia With Love”, and the 1968 version of “The Thomas Crown Affair” (with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunnaway).  From the perspective of a 2008 viewing, they don’t come across very well.  Would they have seemed better then?  (I did enjoy the filming of the Bond movie in Istanbul, in light of my recent trip there.)

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