Summary and book reviews of The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

The Master Butchers Singing Club

by Louise Erdrich

The Master Butchers Singing Club
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2003, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2004, 416 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

Drawing on her German and Ojibwe heritage, Erdrich offers another stimulating exploration into the human heart that will appeal to old fans and new readers alike. It's not exactly a breakaway, but more of the same from such a good writer is just fine.

What happens when a trained killer discovers 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 North Dakota, where he builds a business, a home for his family -- which includes Eva and four sons -- and a singing club consisting of the best voices in town.

When the Old World meets the New -- in the person of Delphine Watzka -- the great adventure of Fidelis's life begins. 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 brilliant new novel by Louise Erdrich

Chapter One
The Last Link

Fidelis walked home from the great war in twelve days and slept thirty-eight hours once he crawled into his childhood bed. When he woke in Germany in late November of the year 1918, he was only a few centimeters away from becoming French on Clemenceau and Wilson's redrawn map, a fact that mattered nothing compared to what there might be to eat. He pushed aside the white eiderdown that his mother had aired and restuffed every spring since he was six years old. Although she had tried with repeated scrubbings to remove from its cover the stains of a bloody nose he'd suffered at thirteen, the faint spot was still there, faded to a pale tea-brown and shaped like a jagged nest. He smelled food cooking -- just a paltry steam but enough to inspire optimism. Potatoes maybe. A bit of soft cheese. An egg? He hoped for an egg. The bed was commodious, soft, and after his many strange and miserable beds of the past three years, it was of such perfect comfort that he'd ...

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Introduction
While set, like much of Erdrich's work, in her native North Dakota, The Master Butchers Singing Club is largely centered around the European-Americans who settled the desolate plains, rather than the reservation-dwelling Native Americans about whom she often writes. Bracketed by the two world wars, Erdrich's multi-generational, character-rich story chronicles a group of ordinary small-town denizens as they encounter the extraordinary events--both in their insular world and in the larger world, too--that come to define their lives.

Having seen his best friend slaughtered in the trenches of World War I, Fidelis Waldvogel trudges back to Germany, his first mission to tell the dead man's fiancée the devastating news. When...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Atlantic Monthly

Satisfying and life-affirming.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Erdrich's new novel is a master work.

Miami Herald

[C]an surely be cast as the most wrenching and wise of Erdrich's nine novels.

San Francisco Chronicle

Each moment and its particulars dazzles … Fidelis and firm-bellied Delphine and the rest [of the characters] are masterworks.

USA Today - Bob Minzesheimer

Not since Richard Russo’s 2001 novel Empire Falls... have I enjoyed the company of such memorable characters.

O magazine

A substantial, beautifully composed, confident work of art … both expansive in its reach and intimate in its intense focus.

BookPage

Grand and generous fiction… Erdrich's most sweeping and ambitious yet.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

[A] masterpiece… Erdrich never hits a false note.

Entertainment Weekly

Appropriately grim and thoughtful, The Master Butchers Singing Club is also full of tenderness and life … Marvelous.

Library Journal - Starr E. Smith

Drawing on her German and Ojibwe heritage, Erdrich here offers another stimulating exploration into the human heart that will appeal to old fans and new readers alike. It's not exactly a breakaway, but more of the same from such a good writer is just fine.

The New York Times - Michiko Katutani

The novel is more naturalistic and more conventional that the author's earlier Argus stories -- fewer excursions into magical realism, fewer flights of fancy -- but every bit as emotionally resonant. Through the prism of one family's tangled history, Ms. Erdrich gives us an indelible glimpse of the American dream and the disappointments that can gather in its wake.

Kirkus Reviews

The tensions between stoical endurance and the frailty of human connection, as delineated in Erdrich's almost unimaginably rich eighth novel a panoramic exploration of a world where butchers sing like angels. ... There are echoes of Steinbeck's East of Eden as well, in a thoughtful, artful, painfully moving addition to an ongoing American saga.

Publishers Weekly

All of the virtues of Erdrich's best works - her lyrical precision, bleakly beautiful North Dakota settings, deft interweaving of characters and subplots, and haunting evocation of love and its attendant mysteries-are on full display in this superb novel....With its lush prose, jolts of wisdom and historical sweep, this story is as rich and resonant as any Erdrich has told.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

In mesmerizing prose, Erdrich meticulously re-creates the brutal work of the slaughterhouse and the lithe grace of the circus troupe and then counterpoints this physical world with transcendent moments of human connection. It's clear that Erdrich, one of our finest writers, is working at the very peak of her considerable powers.

Reader Reviews

cseychew

love, love, love erdrich. however, i felt that this, her latest novel, was somewhat lacking. delphine is a beautifully developed character, but i felt that the majority of the other characters were thin. i understand that franz was stoic and shut ...   Read More

Lynn

Just Average Book
The good news is that Louise Erdrich is an excellent storyteller and you will see parts of that throughout the book. There wasn't enough of the story written from Fidelis' point of view. Maybe, it was my fault, but I though this would be about a ...   Read More

Michael

This book is a lesson in the mediocrity of potential. There is incredible potential in this story, that, sadly, never gets fulfilled. There are excellent characters, and Erdrich clearly has a talent for prose, but the story needs some closure. It is ...   Read More

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