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Songs for the Butcher's Daughter

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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Summer, sweltering, 1996. A book warehouse in western Massachusetts. A man at the beginning of his adult life — and the end of his career rope — becomes involved with a woman, a language, and a great lie that will define his future. Most auspiciously of all, he runs across Itsik Malpesh, a ninetysomething Russian immigrant who claims to be the last Yiddish poet in America. When a set of accounting ledgers in which Malpesh has written his memoirs surfaces — twenty-two volumes brimming with adventure, drama, deception, passion, and wit — the young man is compelled to translate them, telling Malpesh's story as his own life unfolds, and bringing together two paths that coincide in shocking and unexpected ways.

Moving from revolutionary Russia to New York's Depression-era Lower East Side to millennium's-end Baltimore with drama, adventure, and boisterous, feisty charm to spare, the unpeeling of this friendship is a story of the entire twentieth century. For fans of Nicole Krauss, Nathan Englander, Richard Powers, Amy Bloom, and Lore Segal, this book will amaze at every turn: narrated by two poets (one who doesn't know he is and one who doesn't know he isn't), it is a wise and warm look at the constant surprises and ineluctable ravages of time. It's a book about religion, love, and typesetting — how one passion can be used to goad and thwart the other — and most of all, about how faith in the power of words can survive even the death of a language.

A novel of faith lost and hope found in translation, Songs for the Butcher's Daughter is at once an immigrant's epic saga, a love story for the ages, a Yiddish-inflected laughing-through-tears tour of world history for Jews and Gentiles alike, and a testament to Manseau's ambitious genius.


Reminiscent of Nicole Krauss's "The History of Love," Manseau's debut novel introduces readers to two people whose lives merge unexpectedly in the last years of the 20th century: Itsik Malpesh, a 90-something Russian poet and his 21-year-old American translator.


About the Author

Peter Manseau is the author of Vows and coauthor of Killing the Buddha. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. A founding editor of the award-winning webzine, he is now the editor of Search, The Magazine of Science, Religion, and Culture. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Washington, D.C., where he studies religion and teaches writing at Georgetown University.

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

2roses, February 16, 2009 (view all comments by 2roses)
This is a very readable book but I have 2 reservations. One is regards the poetry.

The main character, Itsik, defines himself as a poet. But the examples given are terrible, pure doggerel. I can't tell from the book whether we are meant to think this is good poetry or whether this is meant to show the lack of insight of Itsik. I think the author should give us a clue. Other reviews seem to accept the examples as poems.

My second problem is with the character of Itsik. He commits one small act of violence and one very big one. He is described as gentle so these 2 acts are not in keeping with his character. If we posit a repressed rage to account for them, then we need to see some suggestion of it. I don't think we do.

So we have the poetry and the violence that move the novel along but are not quite explained.

I really liked Chaim who became Charlie Smoth. I'd love a novel about him.

P.S. I am a Robot
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Product Details

A Novel
Free Press
Manseau, Peter
Jews -- United States.
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9 x 6 in

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Songs for the Butcher's Daughter
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 384 pages Free Press - English 9781416538707 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Reminiscent of Nicole Krauss's "The History of Love," Manseau's debut novel introduces readers to two people whose lives merge unexpectedly in the last years of the 20th century: Itsik Malpesh, a 90-something Russian poet and his 21-year-old American translator.
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