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The Turtle Catcher

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  577 ratings  ·  138 reviews
In the tumultuous days after World War I, Herman Richter returns from the front to find his only sister, Liesel, allied with Lester Sutter, the "slow" son of a rival clan who spends his days expertly trapping lake turtles. Liesel has sought Lester’s friendship in the wake of her parents’ deaths and in the shadow of her own dark secret. But what begins as yearning for somet ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Mariner Books (first published February 20th 2009)
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Becky
I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. I was excited to read it, because, if you know me at all, you know that I love me some gut-wrenchers, and this book seemed to have all the makings of one.

The first part of this book, which is only 26 pages, starts the book off in horrifying and tragic fashion. Even for someone like me who loves books that push me to see the ugliness and unfairness and atrocities of life, I read this part with wide, unbelieving eyes. This part of the
...more
Ruth
As I was cruising the new books shelf in our local library, this book jumped out into my hand. I’d never heard of it, nor of the writer, whose earlier memoir set in the same area apparently garnered praise and awards. This is her first book of fiction.

It’s a winner. Achingly beautiful in its writing, it tells the intertwined tales of the German immigrants and their neighbors of New Germany, Minnesota. At its heart is Liesl, who harbors what she thinks is a shameful secret about her body. Her onl
...more
Kirsta
Here is an example of true, living, breathing characters. These are the kind of people that you think about when you are not with them; as you wash dishes, you're thinking about Leisel washing dishes. I've started another book - a good one - but I wish that it was these characters I was with still.

This is the story of German-Americans during WWI. This is a war I know little of and the story of the conflicts within the recently arrived German community as their neighbors make Germans out to be m
...more
Barbara
This is a very unusual story, unexpected for sure, especially considering life on a farm wouldn't sound very interesting to many readers. It is spell-binding, emotional, haunting, and the writing is almost poetic at times. Descriptions are beautifully written without distracting from the story. There's romance, mystery, history, and characters to be laughed at and cried for. I read it in two days, and to heck with laundry, TV and the rest...I couldn't put it down. I didn't want it to end, but fo ...more
Sandra
The first chapter of The Turtle Catcher left me breathless...The setting is rural Minnesota 1920's and the first chapter describes how three brothers take the law into their own hands when they discover a neighborhood boy has taken advantage of their sister. They march him into the nearest lake and "help" him drown. Later you discover that the sister was not telling the truth about what the boy did to her. She has her own secret.
I also like that the book teaches me more about the 1920's time pe
...more
Tony
Helget, Nicole. THE TURTLE CATCHER. (2009). ***1/2. The author sets out to chronicle a family saga. The saga ends in New Germany, MN, but starts in Germany in the mid-1800s. After World War I, Herman Richter, who had lost one arm in one of many battles, returned home to his father’s farm in rural Minnesota to find that his only sister, Leisel, was unmarried, but known to be cavorting with the retarded son of a non-German farmer. A whole series of events involving Herman and his consort, Betty, a ...more
Theresa
Apr 06, 2010 Theresa rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Theresa by: Classy Broads Book Club
This is the story of the Richter family and how the secrets of the family members effect their lives.

They are recent German immigrants to New Germany, Minnesota. Their children attend the local school, where classes are taught in German. Then WWI breaks out in Europe and the townspeople find themselves held under suspicion and their traditions and language banned.

Then there are the secrets of the Richter’s mother, Magdelena (Maggie) and the daughter, Liesl.

The story opens shortly after WWI and H
...more
Buchdoktor
Wer Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts in New Germany, einer Siedlung deutscher Auswanderer in Minnesota, überleben will, muss hart sein. Frieda und Magdalena zeigen diese Härte schon, als sie sich die Auswanderung in die USA erkämpfen. Magdalena erwartete im Deutschland der Jahrhundertwende ein Kind von einem jüdischen Mann, mit dem eine Heirat undenkbar war. Die schwangere Magdalena heiratet kurz nach ihrer Ankunft in Minnesota den zwanzig Jahre älteren deutschen Farmer Wilhelm Richter, ihre Schweste ...more
Karen
The German and German-American characters of this World War I novel make this tale. From the first chapter, the reader knows the novel's conclusion, knows that the story ends with the murder of a retarded man accused of rape. The rest of the book is a rewinding to time before the murder, in some cases a rewinding to a time before the conception of some of the major players in this tale. Small-town lusts, family secrets, and shame play major roles in the tragedies to come, as does the divisive na ...more
Jane
How appropriate that I read this book while spending the weekend largely in New Ulm, MN (Helget's base for this novel is "New Germany, MN," which is really based on New Ulm and nearby Sleepy Eye) due to Davis' mite hockey tournament there. I kept looking up from the book to check out something in the town's visitors' guide only to discover Helget really had based a lot of the story on historical facts surrounding the town and its rocky start with German immigrants, the Dakota Sioux uprising, and ...more
Nancy
Liesel Richter and Lester Sutter are outcasts in their pre-World War I Wisconsin community of New Germany. Liesel is the illegitimate daughter of a young German woman and her Jewish lover. When her sister finds out that she is pregnant, she arranges for the two of them to leave Germany and settle in the United States where she quickly finds husbands for each of them. Liesel is born with some kind of anomaly and is kept at the family farm by her mother because of it. Lester, the son of the neighb ...more
Jennifer
Three and a half stars.

I can't really write about the plot because in doing so I'd give just about everything away. I will say that I've read more than my fair share of dark books, but this is perhaps the bleakest, most brutal thing I have ever read. I found it to be mostly well-written, although some of the shifts in the plot were exasperating (the entire chapter detailing William Richter's childhood, upbringing, and adulthood seemed really displaced. It would have been fine if this was the gen
...more
Teresa
Fabulous book -- one of my favorites of the year. Beautiful writing. Historical fiction about German immigrants prior to and during the first World War. Very interesting characters -- you are really pulled in to the families and seeing life from different perspectives. The characters are realistic, human, flawed, not stereotypes. I truly love this book and recommend it highly.
Barner
Written by a woman growing up on a southern MN Farm, the setting of the novel, the story tells of treatment of Germans in the town of New Germany, MN during WWI. The "turtle catcher" is a backward man who is skilled at catching turtles, but little else and who also suffers from unforgiveable treatment from his brutish father. He is befriended by a girl (slightly deformed and thus feeling an outcast)) and their friendship leads to the opening scene in which the girl's three brothers drown the tur ...more
Rita
Thought provoking and insighteful. As a Minnesota girl, born and bread, I felt comforted yet intrigued. Helget develops interesting characters whose simplicity gives them depth. My heart aches for Liesel... for her shy demeanor and longing to be normal which pushes her to Lester Sutter. My heart aches more so for Herman. Such a gentle soul wanting nothing more than to do what's right for him and his country and in spite of his father's wishes, he follows his heart and his mind. The resulting tor ...more
Katie
Unfortunately, I thought this book was terrible. I've rarely read such a poorly written, borderline silly novel. Featured are the following melodramatic components: a hermaphrodite, a mentally disabled man and the supernatural. The author never manages to weave these elements together, and it seems as if the goal was merely to titillate with all of these "novel" characters and happenings. I agree with whoever said the language was too contemporary. My edition was also poorly edited, with grammar ...more
Jodi
The first twenty-six pages of Nicole Helget’s The Turtle Catcher are so intense that you will find yourself gasping for air while reading them, having become so engrossed you forget to breathe. The book opens with the three remaining Richter boys pointing guns at Lester Sutter, the town’s “not quite right” guy, and demanding he walk into the middle of Spider Lake. They have filled his pockets with rocks and sewn them shut. They are killing him because of some impropriety between Lester and their ...more
Nancy
I liked this book but also agree with the other reviewers that perhaps the author tried to accomplish too much in this novel about German American immigrant farmers in new Germantown, Minnesota during the years surrounding world war one.
The characters are all somewhat exaggerated - very good or very bad. Leisel is the central figure - a young hermaphrodite who lives at home and cares for her brothers - her mother dying in child birth when Leisel is 12. The bitterness and conflicts that were part
...more
Joanne
This book begins with a horrific incident and there are at least two more after that. Those parts of the book probably decreased my rating from 3 1/2 stars to 3. Otherwise, the rest of the book is the story of an immigrant family: why they immigrated, how conflicting loyalties affected the family, damaged members of the family, interactions with longer residents of Minnesota & native Americans, etc. The author is a very good story teller and the characters are well-developed, however, I woul ...more
Melissa
I really enjoyed this book a ton, despite the fact that it seemed to get a bit bogged down in the middle. However, I was left at the end saying "WTH??" I almost gave it three stars just because I was so baffled by the ending, but overall it was an extremely engaging, well-told story.
Soren Petrek
This was an extremely entertaining book. The cultural examination in an important historical context is well done, as are the vivid scene descriptions. Most of all, the characters bring the story to life.
Vivfischer
Nicole Helget captures the combination of stoicism and hardness that ensured survival in the late 19th/early 20th century in rural Minnesota. The plight of well-established German immigrant farmers as tensions arose in the year leading up to World War I provides the tension against which is set the personal story of Liesel Richter, a sister essentially imprisoned on her farm caring for 3 brothers and father, with little hope of future options. Some of the characters (her brothers, for example) w ...more
Su
This book had such an explosive beginning that you couldn't help but read through to the end. The author herself is a graduate of Mankato State University, same as me, and grew up in southern Minnesota, ditto.
She sets her story in a fictional town of New Germany, Minnesota during and after the first World War. It is a dark and brooding story, but also very much describes what life must have been like for Minnesota inhabitants during both the Sioux Uprising of 1862 (flashbacks) and WWI. Should th
...more
Karen
OK, my first warning on this should have the fact that the book jacket says, "William Faulkner for the Midwest". Weird, graphic, and not worth it to me.
Michelle
Dec 28, 2009 Michelle rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michelle by: Library
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christa
While I really enjoyed the characters Helget created and the history she weaved into her family story, I was disappointed with the ending.

I'm not sure I know why. This would be a fantastic book club read because it opens the door to so much discussion.
Rob
Nicole Helget's prose contains hooks of livewire, and she can tell a story to a reader like an old friend; regardless whether you've ever met her before. The Turtle Catcher is a fascinating folk tale dealing with Germans in small town Minnesota. And the devil is in the details all the way down to the turtle soup that sustained many a German-American. Once again, Helget juxtapositions the dark depravity capable in humans versus pure innocence that is vulnerable and needy. I can't say enough about ...more
Dawn
This is my first experience with this author. I had high hopes as the book starts with such a strong opening -- mystery and murder... but, I felt the rest was just ok. There is a good attempt at character development as the author gives us the background on each character and what led up to the scene in the first chapter. However, I never really connected with any of the characters or what was happening to them. I still give it three stars because it was an interesting story and the writing was ...more
Deborah
This was an odd, but good, story. I thought it was interesting to read about things that happened in that era. One thing that remained in my mind was, how many people out there do not know their true heritage due to the fact that it was taboo to have children out of wedlock? How many people are there out there still that do not now where they really come from? Now, Benjamin had a trinket that was later traced back to his true heritage, but not everyone would have had something to pass on that wo ...more
Holly
Starts with the ending (which is brutal and hard to read), then circles around to the beginning and moves forward (more, or less) so you know how each character ended up at this place.

Interesting characters. However, there were so many interesting characters that it felt unreal. Loved all the historical detail (takes place in a small German immigrant town in MN during WWI) and learned many things.

Ultimately a story about secrets and loyalty and how they affect each person differently. Beautifu
...more
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Born in 1976, Nicole Helget grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways. She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Based on the novel's first chapter, NPR's Scott Simon awarded The Turtle Catcher the Tamarack Prize from Minnesota Monthly.
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