Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Mater Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

genre: historical fiction

With only a suitcase of sausages and his butcher knives, WWI veteran Fidelis Waldvogel arrives in America from Germany. Knowing he must set up a life for Eva, his wife, and young Franz left in Europe, he makes a home for himself in Argus, North Dakota - an unremarkable town that becomes the backdrop for this story of immigrants and soldiers, drunkards and circus performers.  Argus is also the home of the capable and complicated Delphine, and when Eva makes a place in her life for Delphine, their stories intertwine until Old and New World mesh and create a friendship that changes not just both of them, but Fidelis too and even Argus itself.  

I love immigration stories, first of all. It is such a huge decision to pick up one's life and give it a go somewhere else, the ebb and flow of the foreign-born parents and the "American" children is so interesting.  Fidelis is a complex human being in some ways, having seen the horror of World War I and sorting through the loss of his homeland as he chooses to come to America.  But he's also passionate and easily satisfied with his knives and his songs.   His relationships with those he loves are as complex as he is and as nice as it is to just read "typical" love stories, I believe in this type of of story too, a story as real and convoluted as life can be, especially in times of depression and war.

The writing is lyrical, so lovely.  I liked the arc of Delphine as a woman, as a daughter and as a friend, I believed her as she took sides and made a world for herself as she sorted through all of the hard situations that came her way.  It's not a particularly happy novel - there is war and murder and people make poor decisions whose consequences ripple into the lives of others.  But somehow I became so invested in Fidelis, Eva and Delphine that I wanted to know what happened to them wherever the path took, knowing that real life is not always pretty.  A few anachronisms caught my attention and while I didn't love how things wrapped together in the end, I wasn't unsatisfied.  I like Erdrich as an author and would read her work again.

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