Q: Your book is a mystery set in parallel universe, about a police detective trying to solve a murder in ďAlyeska,Ē the territory that Alaska could have been had it become a homeland for Jews during the second World War. In an odd way, the story comments upon September 11. How did you come up with the idea?
A: It grew out of an essay that I wrote several years ago that was a response to this strange little book called Say It in Yiddish. Thereís a series of Say It books: Say It in Swahili, Say It in Spanish, etcetera. All of the others in the series have countries or regions associated with them. So, I started wondering in this essay, whatís this book for? Where would you take it? In the course of speculating on that, I considered possible Yiddish-speaking countries that might have come into existence if things had happened differently. I had read about this proposal once that Jewish refugees be allowed to settle in Alaska during World War II. I made a passing reference to it in the essay, but the idea stuck.
Q: Were you worried thatbecause you have a mainstream audiencethis book would scare people off?
A: Iíve been in that position before with Kavalier & Clay. Somebody would ask me what that was about, and as soon as I said the words comic book, I could see their eyes just . . . I had many moments of ďOh, god, nobodyís going to want to read this book.Ē It all worked out okay.
Q: Speaking of, whatís latest with the movie version of Kavalier & Clay?
A: We were so close. As far as I was told, we had been greenlighted, and we had part of a cast. Tobey Maguire was supposed to star, and Natalie Portman. Then around Thanksgiving it just completely went south for studio-politics kinds of reasons that Iím not privy to. I have a lot of faith in the producer, Scott Rudin, who has the rights to the material. Heís a great movie producer, and if anyone can pull it all together, itís Scott. But right now, as far as I know, thereís not a lot going on.
Q: What was it like to rewrite nearly 70 years of history for The Yiddish Policemenís Union?
A: I planned things out pretty carefully before I started, but I revised my history several times in the course of writing the book, as my ideas got clearer. I tried to resist the impulse to have too much fun with that kind of stuff because I could easily get carried away. I didnít want to do things like ďThe prime minister of England is Mick Jagger.Ē In many ways, the book was an exercise in restraint all around. The sentences are much shorter than my typical sentences; my paragraphs are shorter than my typical paragraphs. I wrote in a prose style that I had never written in before.