Critics have been speculating for years about who will pen the next Great American Jewish Novel. All signs pointed to Michael Chabon when his 2007 novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union conceived of an alternate history in which a Jewish homeland was established in Alaska instead of Israel. But Chabon’s latest release is sending critics and Jewish-literature soothsayers back to their laptops and crystal balls.
Chabon’s new novel, Telegraph Avenue, is markedly not so Jewish. The novel tells the story of Brokeland Records, a used vinyl store in 2004 Berkeley, CA. It explores the friendship of the shop’s two co-owners, as well as the lives and dynamics of their families.
Instead of defining the basic idea of the novel as in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, the Jewishness of Telegraph Avenue, Chabon says, is “not an overt theme of the book.” We see it, rather, in the way the characters live their lives: in the tensions between the black and Jewish families at the center of the story and, as Chabon said in one interview, in “the thread of Jewish involvement both in the production and distribution of [black popular] music.” But, the author insists: “The book is not about that… It’s about two guys who own a record store.”