Discussed June 2009
The quirky characters caught me immediately, and I worried that I had opened a John Irving novel. No, no. These characters are well-written and drive the narrative, but stay within the realm of realism.
I had never read any Erdrich before, and I really enjoyed the rich story that she wove. The book moves steadily and kept me interested with an intricate storyline that spans many years.
Character-driven fiction, if you like that kind of thing. I did.
This is a strange book and definitely not for everyone. It starts out being about Fidelis Waldvogel, a master butcher from Germany, and then goes on to be about Delphine Watzka, the daughter of the local drunk in Argus, North Dakota. That is all fine but I think too many themes were stuffed in here - WWI, immigration, North Dakota (during the winter mostly), murder, family loyalty, attitudes to gays, First Nations issues, poverty, alcoholism, an angelic wife, an evil sister, a celibate 'marriage', boyhood hijinks, and a passion for cleanliness. I persevered, partly because I wanted to see how all this resolved, if it ever did, and to enjoy the writing itself. Erdrich has a way with language but in the end I did not think it was enough for me to really appreciate whatever she was trying to do.
Simply a great book.
What a well-written novel !!! The writing is beautiful. The story is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. It is the story of 2 people, an immigrant butcher from Germany named Fidelis and a half-Indian woman named Delphine. They meet in a small town in North Dakota in the 1920s and deal with each other for many years until they eventually marry. He has to deal with losing his best friend in World War I, losing his wife when his children are young and dealing with a domineering sister. She has her own problems with an alcoholic dad, a gay performer that she pretends to marry, a friend with her own problems and a murder found in her father's basement. They are held together by her helping to run his butcher shop and nursing his dying wife and raising the kids. A lot is left unsaid. The singing club in the title helps Fidelis deal with a homesickness for Germany. World War II and its aftermath help tie the stories together . This would be a great book club title.
It follows the life of Fidelis Waldvogel and his family, as well as Delphine Watzka and her partner Cyprian, as they adjust in their separate lives in the small town of Argus, North Dakota.
A 5-Star rating! One of the best novels I've read in a long while. Erdrich shares with readers the heritage of her father, bringing her German roots into the story with the same eloquent imagery and poetic wordplay so common in her other novels. This absolutely magnificent story is a definite must read.
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