Songs for the Butcher's Daughter is a winner of the National Jewish Book Award, the Sophie Brody Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Jewish Literature, and the Ribalow Prize for Fiction. The novel was also a finalist for France's Prix Medicis and the Center for Fiction's First Novel of the Year Award.
In a warehouse full of forgotten books, 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 90-something 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 - 22 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 20th century.
For fans of Nicole Krauss, Nathan Englander, Richard Powers, Amy Bloom, and Lore Segal, this book will amaze listeners 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 exploration of 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.
©2008 Peter Manseau (P)2012 Peter Manseau