Sunday, July 20, 2014

410 (2014 #38). The Master Butchers Singing Club

written and read by Louise Erdrich

Although a bit quirky, I loved this book.  The Master Butcher is Fidelis Valdvogel, who fights for Germany in World War I, marries Eva, the pregnant fiancee of his best friend who was killed in action.  Fidelis comes to America in 1922 and sells sausages to try to get to Seattle - but can only get as far as Argus, North Dakota.  So he sets up a butcher shop there and brings Eva and her son over, and they have three more sons.

Meanwhile, Delphine Watzka has returned to Argus and her ever-drunk father Roy with her vaudeville balancing act performing companion, the French-Ojibwe Cyprian Lazarre.

Thus begins a novel with unusual happenings - a butchers' rivalry involving a dog and the formation of the singing group, the discovery of three sets of human bones in Roy's cellar, a rescue from a collapsing mound of dirt, and a murder, among others.

What makes it all work for me are the colorful characters.  Delphine is really the protagonist of the book, but nearly all of those she encounters - Cyprian, Roy, Fidelis, Eva, their sons Franz and Marcus, Franz' girlfriend Mazarine, Fidelis' sister Tante, the town's Sheriff Hock, Delphine's friend Clarisse, the town's undertaker, even Step-and-a-Half, the town's bag lady - have intriguing stories.

The book also provides some insight into what life was like in small-town North Dakota in that era - 1922 to 1954.   Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II all play a part in the book. I don't think author Louise Erdrich (who is of German, French, and Ojibwe descent) intended it to be historical fiction, though, she was just telling a good story.  She does say in her acknowledgments at the end of the book that

The picture of the young butcher on the cover of this book is of my grandfather Ludwig Erdrich.  He fought in the trenches on the German side in World War I.  His sons served on the American side in World War II.  This book is fiction except for snout salad [page 83], the bull's pizzle [pages 143-144], and my grandmother's short stint as a human table in a vaudeville act.

Erdrich reads this audiobook.  Although she is not a professional audiobook narrator, and her reading is therefore not polished, she is effective.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library and my university library respectively.]

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