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The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise…

The Master Butchers Singing Club (original 2003; edition 2005)

by Louise Erdrich

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1,941543,516 (4.05)163
Title:The Master Butchers Singing Club
Authors:Louise Erdrich
Info:Harper Perennial (2005), Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Murder, small town butcher shop, german people, loyalty, devotion

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The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich (2003)

  1. 10
    The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Lea Helget (zinschj)
    zinschj: Both are stories of post-World War I immigrants struggling with their new lives in America.
  2. 00
    Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald (ainsleytewce)

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English (52)  German (1)  French (1)  All (54)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
(Note: this review is mainly a plot summary.) This excellent work by the masterful Louise Erdrich tells of the lives and relationships spanning decades of people living in rural North Dakota.

Fidelis Waldvogel, a German veteran of the Great War emigrated to America after marrying Eva Kalb, the fiance of his deceased war comrade whose child Eva was carrying. Fidelis makes his way across America until his money runs out in Argus, North Dakota. Fidelis is a master butcher (an singer of German lieder) and opens a shop in the town. Delphine Watzka, a native of Argus, have been touring with Cyprian Lazarre with a vaudevillian gymnastic act. She and Cyprian are close but have a sort of semi-sexual relationship. She discovers by chance that Cyprian is a homosexual. Delphine and Cyprian return to Argus to look after her alcoholic father. They encounter in his ramshackle home a horrible smell that he can't detect in his drunken stupor. They discover to their horror that three people had died in his basement, trapped after a drink-fueled party. Sheriff Hock suspects this may have been something other than unintended and pursues the matter intermittently over several years. Roy is a widower in long-term grief over his deceased wife, Minnie, Delphine's mother, whom she never knew. Delphine and Cyprian set up housekeeping in Roy's house, giving the false impression that they are married.

Delphine and Cyprian have abandoned their road act and she finds work in Fidelis's shop where she become close to Eva and her four sons. Eva contracts cancer and dies a protracted, painful death; Delphine's tender care hindered cruelly by Fidelis's scornful and mean sister, Tante. Delphine becomes increasingly close to Fidelis's sons, particularly Markus, a sensitive and imaginative boy. Tante persuades Fidelis to allow the boys, except Franz, the oldest, to return with her to Germany, but Markus becomes ill before their departure and stays in Argus.

Roy falls deeper into alcoholism, but has times when he is on the wagon. He connects with an eccentric women nicknamed Step-and-a-Half because of her odd stride. Step-in-a-Half is a rag picker and junk collector who eventually opens a junk store where Roy assists her.

Cyprian leaves and Delphine tells Fidelis that they were never married. Fidelis has feelings for Delphine, but does not want to tread on Cyprian's ties to her, especially as Cyprian had bravely rescued Markus from being entrapped under a collapsed pile of dirt. Fidelis and Delphine eventually marry and she becomes a devoted step mother to Franz and Markus.

Clarisse, the town's undertaker, is Delphine's long-time friend and the object of Sheriff Hock's romantic obsession. Clarisse persistently rejects Hock's attention until, to pressure her into a relationship, he confronts her with a contrived claim that she somehow was implicated in the three deaths. Clarisse kills Hock and flees the town to start a new life somewhere not known to anybody.

The two youngest Waldvogel sons (twins) remain in Germany with Tante and are eventually taken into the Nazi army where Ernst is killed and Erich becomes a POW shipped to northern Minnesota. Franz and Markus join the U.S. army where Markus because of poor eyesight gets a desk job. Franz, who had been fascinated with airplanes, joins the Air Corps and survives tough missions only to be injured in a freak accident, evidently brain damaged for life. Markus and Fidelis learn of Erich's presence in the POW camp and try to visit him there, but Erich is frightened to acknowledge them for fear that fellow prisoners will harm him if his identify as an American is known. Fidelis and Delphine visit his hometown after the war, but dies of a heart attack upon returning to the states.

Roy dies and Delphine learns that Step-and-a-Half, whose heritage is from the Sioux, is really her mother and that, despite her Polish lineage, she has Native American ties.

This short summary cannot, of course, convey the richness and intricacies of this novel. The plotting of this novel is complex but utterly credulous. Erdrich is marvelous in her portrayal of the inter-relationships among the characters. The sense of small town life in rural America in the mid-century years is compelling conveyed. ( )
  stevesmits | Jul 17, 2017 |
My reading group was lukewarm about this book, as I was too, ultimately. Some complained that the stories were well told but left holes in our understanding, some found it predictable (as I did). There were a lot of questions regarding how the main characters felt about divided families.

But if you are looking for a story of small-town life in North Dakota between WWI and WWII, of how the town coheres and how it handles or doesn't handle its secrets, I think it's pretty good. We've read a few other books with similar backgrounds lately: Main Street, which I found somewhat mean-spirited in the way it portrayed women in a stodgier, more settled and stratified social structure; My Antonia, also about the immigrant experience on the Great Plains, but much more rural. Each of these books was completely natural and concrete in the settings and people described.

The Erdrich book has more of a fantasy about it in the beginning, and maybe that reflects the feeling of bewilderment of the immigrant in a strange land. One of the characters is a 'balancer', running a sort of vaudeville routine where he balances on stacks of chairs (and a partner!), and everyone in this story is finding or losing their balance, at once insider and outsider, building the social platform on which they need to stand.

We had some extra luck in that one of our attendees had grown up in the upper mid-west, in a fairly rural area, where people may have had radio but certainly not TV, where they created bonds through activities like singing clubs and other associations - they made their own culture and entertainment. She found the portrayal of small town life in this book very real and very reminiscent of her own childhood.

I would venture to say that some of us in this group live in small towns or rural areas and have some experience in making their own culture. And you are all here too, aren't you? ( )
  ffortsa | Apr 5, 2017 |
Fidelis Waldvogel walks home from war to his small German town, marries his best friend's sweetheart and moves to Argus, North Dakota, with his family to ply his trade as a butcher. Delphine Watzka and her friend/sort of lover Cyprian work together in performing a balancing act, and eventually move back to her home town of Argus.

Other characters from the small town of Argus people the story: Eva, Fidelis's wife, and their sons; Delphine's soused father Roy; and many more. It unfolds slowly as a saga, letting you see these characters inside and out, their capacity for goodness and evil, for love and hate. The drama is in the everyday, and Erdrich does an excellent job of immersing you in this one small town between the wars and through World War 2. Because of its introspective character study and descriptive writing, I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed award-winners or novels with a good sense of place rather than something plot-driven. ( )
  bell7 | Jun 15, 2016 |
The Master Butchers Singing Club – Louise Erdrich
5 stars
If there is a single complex, messy, deeply felt human emotion that this book doesn’t touch, I don’t know what it is. The Master Butchers Singing Club is a beautifully told saga of a small mid-western town and the lives of its people. The story begins in Germany with Fidelis Waldvogel at the end of the first world war. It follows his transition from expert sniper in the German Army to immigrant American butcher and shop owner. Fidelis is only one of the significant people in the life of Delphine Watzka. The actual focus of the book is Delphine’s story. Erdrich writes believable characters in all their complexity and draws a picture of their lives through major and minor crisis. Her language is layered with meaning and lyrically beautiful. At first, I read it quickly, completely engaged in the lives of the characters. I’m sure I will read it again to fully appreciate the structure of the story and the depth of the language. It’s well worth multiple readings and that may be what defines it as American Literature.

( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Four people are introduced in the first two chapters of this historical romance. Four people whose story will comprise the rest of the novel: Fidelis and Eva, and Cyprian and Delphine. Yet, the true center of the novel will be Delphine Watzka for it is her story that will intertwine with all the rest and it is her character that you as the reader will come to love and admire.

We meet Fidelis Waldvogel, a German sniper, at the end of World War I as he returns to his hometown in Germany. Fidelis seeks out Eva Kalb, the pregnant fiancée of his dear friend, Johannes, and after informing her that her fiancé has died in the war he shares his promise to Johannes that he would marry and take care of her. Fidelis, a butcher by trade, leaves Germany by himself to emigrate to the United States in order to escape the immense poverty brought on by the war. His limited funds and sausages take him as far as Argus, North Dakota. Working for the local butcher and then setting up his own butcher shop in Argus he is able to send for his wife, Eva, and her child, Franz.

Delphine Watzka is the daughter of Roy Watzka, the town drunk, who grew up in Argus, North Dakota. Delphine never met her mother and leaves the town to become a vaudeville performer soon meeting Cyprian, a World War I veteran, with whom she enters a unique relationship. The two make money from an act where Delphine performs as a table upon which Cyprian balances. After accidentally observing Cyprian engaging in sex with another man their relationship changes, but the two remain together, posing as a married couple. They eventually return to Argus and settle there. From this point on Delphine's life becomes intertwined with that of Eva and the family she is raising with Fidelis.

Louise Erdrich enriches the story with family mysteries and the inevitable observations of small town Midwestern life. As someone who grew up in a small Midwestern community in the 1950s I felt at home with the people of Argus. Delphine ultimately takes a job in Fidelis' Butcher Shop which demands hard work from Fidelis and Delphine as well. Delphine learns domestic skills from Eva and this proves useful as Eva contracts a cancer and in spite of treatments and help from her sister-in-law, Tante, she dies. Tante and Cyprian both leave Argus. Tante returns to Germany with Erich and Emil. Cyprian returns to the life of the traveling performer. Both departures pave the way for a romance between Delphine and Fidelis, which eventually results in marriage.

These and other developments in the community leave Delphine and Fidelis together and eventually they marry, cementing a relationship that develops slowly with Delphine first becoming a replacement mother for Fidelis' four boys. Their story and the impact on their lives of the Second World War lead to a heartwarming denouement as the family enters the decade of the fifties.

The author demonstrates superlative story-telling skills in this sage of four decades in the lives of the four people we met at the beginning of the novel. Her character development and understanding of the psychology of relationships makes this a wonderful book. It was my introduction to the writing of Louise Erdrich and I only regret that I had not discovered the charms of Fidelis, the Master Butcher, and his Singing Club sooner. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Amazon.com Review
Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club is a powerfully told story of love, death, redemption, and resurrection. After German soldier Fidelis Waldvogel returns home from World War I to marry his best friend's pregnant widow, he packs up his father's butcher knives and sets sail for America. ....
added by eigram | editAmazon.com, Gisele Toueg (Jul 24, 2009)
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To my father, who sang to me.
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Fidelis walked home from the great war in twelve days and slept thirty-eight hours once he crawled into his childhood bed.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060837055, Paperback)

Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club is a powerfully told story of love, death, redemption, and resurrection. After German soldier Fidelis Waldvogel returns home from World War I to marry his best friend's pregnant widow, he packs up his father's butcher knives and sets sail for America. He settles in Argus, North Dakota, where he sets up a meat shop with his wife Eva, who quickly befriends the struggling yet resourceful Delphine Watzka. Delphine, who runs a vaudeville show with her balancing partner Cyprian Lazarre, has returned home to Argus to care for her alcoholic father. While most of this emotionally rich novel focuses on the changing landscape of small-town life as seen through Delphine and Fidelis's eyes, Erdrich does a masterful job of illuminating hidden dramas through her secondary characters. Erdrich's portrayal of these various townsfolk, including members of the Master Butchers Singing Club, truly shows off her storytelling talent. Her ability to infuse each character with a distinct and multifaceted personality makes this novel an intimate and thought-provoking adventure. --Gisele Toueg

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:02 -0400)

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"What happens when a trained killer discovers, in the aftermath of war, that his true vocation is love? Having survived the killing fields of World War I, Fidelis Waldvogel returns home to his quiet German village and marries the pregnant widow of his best friend who was killed in action." "With a suitcase full of sausages and a master butcher's precious set of knives, Fidelis sets out for America, getting as far as Argus, North Dakota, where he settles. Over the years he works hard, building a business, a home for his family - which now includes Eva and four sons - and a singing club consisting of the best voices in town. The group embraces everyone, from the local banker to the town drunk, the sheriff, the other butcher in Argus, and an elusive drifter, part Ojibwe, part French, whose balancing act is a wonder to behold." "What happens when the Old World meets the New - in the person of Delphine Watzka, a daughter of Argus whose origins are a mystery even to her - turns out to be one of the great adventures of Fidelis's life. Delphine meets Eva and is enchanted; she meets Fidelis, and the ground trembles. These momentous encounters will determine the course of Delphine's life, and the trajectory of this novel by Louise Erdrich."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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