Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Songs for the Butcher's Daughter

This was a phenomenal read. Written by Peter Manseau, a Georgetown professor who knows his way around the balance of narrative and description, the book intersperses the lifestory of Itsik Malpesh, an unwilling immigrant to the United States from his native Russia, with that of a young man in the present charged with translating the former's memoirs.

The characters are recognizable but not "stock." Malpesh is blown, as the feathers in the town's goosedown factory are, across the ocean into a sweatshop. He remains a poet at heart and in mind, scribbling rhymed verses at will on whatever he can find, pining for a lost love and ignoring the reality of the world around him. He stubbornly clings to his native Yiddish instead of learning Hebrew or English as the world around him dictates.

Several times, I had to look at the jacket to verify that this was indeed fiction and not a memoir. The story, while incredulous, is realistic. The plot moves--not at breakneck speed, as in so many of today's "thrillers"--allowing you to stop along the way to savor a bit of description, a paragraph of philosophy, or a historical incident that lingers in the collective memory of most tribal members.

Highly recommend this one--check it out!