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The Master Butchers Singing Club: A Novel…

The Master Butchers Singing Club: A Novel (Erdrich, Louise) (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Louise Erdrich

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2,047584,896 (4.05)177
Title:The Master Butchers Singing Club: A Novel (Erdrich, Louise)
Authors:Louise Erdrich
Info:Harper (2003), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:store, 1st, novel, abc

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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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» See also 177 mentions

English (55)  French (2)  German (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
my favorite of this author, and she is a fav of mine. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
The title intrigued me quite a bit. Then there's this cover. I found that it's an actual photograph from 1912. There! I bought the book. (My criteria for book purchase are very rigid.)

Happily, the novel itself proved to be highly wonderful. In fact it's among my favorites for the year. Louise Erdrich is a new author for me, but one I am glad to add to my list. Here she tells the story of one Fidelis Waldvogel, a WWI soldier who marries the pregnant lover of his dead colleague. Then, they strike out for America. North Dakota is where they end up and Fidelis sets up a butcher shop.

The other strand of the story is introduced in Chapter 2. It's a young woman named Delphine Watzka who is a performer in a vaudeville act. As the novel goes on, one realizes that it is mainly her point of view that we are witnessing. Her relationships with Eva Waldvogen, their children, her own booze-hound father Roy, and with her somewhat-lover Cyprian. All these threads are equally meaningful; the writing is simple and spare, like a well-made kitchen table that bears immense weight while being the coziest spot in the house.

The town of Argus, ND, comes alive much like the arresting cover photograph. There is a good deal of plot that keeps going in a skillful arc from 1919 to 1954. Life, love, devotion, war, death...such are the common themes that Erdrich writes about with uncommon loveliness. There is even a surprise at the ending which left me with mixed feelings, but only because I wished to know more about the circumstances.

The only two things I would quibble about are: one, the title. Fine, Erdrich has creative choice in naming her own novel. But in the end I feel that simply, "Delphine" would be a good title. And second, the inside-jacket blurb. It somehow gave a different impression of what the book promised to be. While this was not exactly misleading, ultimately this fine novel is left under-served by its own inside jacket; quite a shame.

You can read more of my reviews at https://devikamenon.blogspot.com/search/label/books ( )
  dmenon90 | Dec 12, 2017 |
The Master Butchers Singing Club weaves it's narrative, like many books by Louise Erdrich, through many stories that then create a beautiful tapestry. One of my favorites by this author. ( )
  JJCrawford | Nov 9, 2017 |
(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 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (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)

(see all 7 descriptions)

"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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