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Peter Manseau
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Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  854 Ratings  ·  155 Reviews
In a five-story walkup in Baltimore, nonagenarian Itsik Malpesh—the last Yiddish poet in America—spends his days lamenting the death of his language and dreaming of having his memoirs and poems translated into a living tongue. So when a twenty-one-year-old translator and collector of Judaica crosses his path one day, he goes to extraordinary efforts to enlist the young man ...more
Published September 9th 2009 by Free Press (first published 2008)
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Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Make Words Your Homeland

Near the town of Paarl in the South African Karoo stands a structure which may be unique in the world, an architectural symbol, constructed in 1975, of the Afrikaans language. As far as I am aware, only the Afrikaners have ever chosen to commemorate their culture through a physical representation of a central tool of racial hatred and repression. Mainly used in the rural areas of Cape Province, Afrikaans is spoken by around 7 million people. The symbolism of the Paarl Taa
Jan Rice

This book tricked me into reading it--but in a good way.

It's a double story, one part set in this day and age (give or take a few decades), and one beginning a hundred years ago in Eastern Europe, translated from the Yiddish, as the story goes. The latter, I thought, would be opaque to me, off-putting in some picaresque way.

In looking up picaresque novels, though, I see I love many of those listed. Well, the ones I didn't like, then. Hmm. Anyway, according to some slight foretaste I had made a
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's much to like in this novel. The story is told through the memoirs of a Yiddish-speaking man named Itsik Malpesh, born in 1903 in Kishinev, Russia during a pogrom and who by chance immigrates from Odessa to the U.S. when he's sixteen. Malpesh believes himself to be the last of the great Yiddish poets and he believes in the power of words. His poems and "reason for living" are motivated by his "memories" of his muse, Sasha, the butcher's daughter four years his elder whom he believes scare ...more
Jeff Sharlet
May 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: friends-books
I read this in manuscript. Here's what I wrote about it for 'm nominating a book by a goy, and a goy who happens to be my friend. Also, the book isn't even out yet -- it's coming in August, I think. But bear with me on this one for a moment, because the book -- it's called Songs for the Butcher's Daughter -- is, depending on how you look at it, the weirdly inevitable culmination of Yiddish literature, or its last gasp. (Don't worry -- it's in English.) The author, Peter Manseau, is re ...more
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cannonball-read
I've been trying my best to recall a quote by Franz Kafka describing the essence of Yiddish. If I remember correctly, he explained that the language was verbal expression of everything the gentiles felt about European Jewry. Yiddish is a bastardized German, mutated like a cancer cell, laid out in letters from the dark places of the Middle East. Spoken by an alien people who moved from one walled ghetto to another, the language, like the Jews, was at once disturbingly familiar and troubling forei ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Travolti da un insolito bashert, nell’azzurro mare di Manseau

Essì che anche Zamenhof era ebreo. E infatti, un piccolo dubbio, una piccola spinuccia nel fianco deve averlo avvertito che una lingua priva di storia, anima e identità culturale, come l’esperanto, non avrebbe avuto un successo che fosse veramente universale. Altrimenti chi glielo faceva fare a ufficializzare l’yiddish per i suoi connazionali, a creare parallelamente un’alternativa per i suoi conterranei così attaccati alle proprie rad
switterbug (Betsey)
A young Catholic-born translator with a love of Yiddish literature and the (self-proclaimed) last Yiddish poet living in America provide two narrative threads that converge after a shocking denouement.

Itsik Malpesh is a Russian Jew who grew up during the vicious czarist pogroms of the early 20th century. The son of a feather-plucking goose-down factory manager, he was exposed to the slaughter of animals and people at a tender age. His actual birth occurred in the midst of a brutal attack on his
Oct 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the few books I read this year that I could not put down and still cannot stop thinking about. I was interested in reading this book because of its Jewish themes but even though Jews will find much familiar here I think it will be just as enjoyable for non-Jews. The narrator, who is a main character of the novel, is not Jewish.

The book is a story within a story. There is the story unfolding in the autobiography that is being translated from Yiddish by the narrator. Then there is t
Aug 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
This wonderful book tells the tale of a young Catholic graduate with a love of language who finds himself the custodian of a library of Yiddish texts. He finds himself drawn into the story of Itsik Malpesh, the self-proclaimed greatest Yiddish poet in America. The book unfolds along two timelines, gradually merging together at the end into one seamless story. Itsik's love for Sasha, the butcher's daughter he believes is his bashert provides the main thread to both the narrative and his entire li ...more
Catherine Davison
I loved this book. I loved it for the story and the ancient language it celebrates, Yiddish. I loved it for all the references to Jews and Jewish writers I've admired since my teens; Chaim Potok, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Adler, Sholom Alechoim, I smiled and teared up while reading this. I skipped the too descriptive bits about the goose plucking machine but other than that I loved this book and recommend it to anyone who has an appreciation of literature and Jewish humour, writing and culture. ( i ...more
Ayelet Waldman
I love a good Yiddish tale.
Aug 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, jewish, nederlands
Lovely story and languages are close to my heart so I especially enjoyed that angle.
Boris Feldman
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Jewish life story, from the Kishinev pogrom to the Lower East Side. Beautifully written. Engaging, unpredictable, plot. A very touching work.
Robin Friedman
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Peter Manseau's 2008 novel "Songs for the Butcher's Daughter" is a sprawling yarn which covers virtually the entire 20th century with settings in Kishinev, Odessa, New York City, Baltimore, and Jerusalem. Much of the book is about the Jewish immigrant experience and about Yiddish. Manseau has a fresh and sympathetic grasp of his materials made all the more impressive because he is not Jewish. He has been a wanderer in religion and in spirituality, and it shows in his novel. Before writing this d ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Een boek dat zo’n prachtige titel heeft zorgt voor hoge verwachtingen en wat mij betreft worden deze verwachtingen helemaal waargemaakt. Een fantasierijk boek dat me regelmatig kippenvel gaf omdat ik zo bij de hoofdpersoon betrokken was. In het boek lopen eigenlijk twee verhalen door elkaar heen, waarin allerlei toevalligheden voor een verrassend einde zorgen. Aan de ene kant het verhaal van een katholieke jongen uit Boston die zoekend naar werk terecht is gekomen bij een Joodse culturele organi ...more
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very sophisticated debut novel for Peter Manseau, the author. There are two narrators with alternating plotlines, living in different time periods and places, but as the book moves forward, eventually they intersect. Such is their bashert—a Yiddish word for destiny that recurs throughout the book.

The first narrator, Itsik Malpesh, is a man determined to be the greatest living Yiddish poet. He is born in Kishinev, Russia, on Orthodox Easter in 1903, during a pogrom. His father invents
Stacie Pittard
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Between the historical research that went into this book, and the complexity of the characters, I very much enjoyed this novel. There are so many levels of appreciation, I'm not even sure I can recall them all.

First and foremost I loved how the journey of the characters represented the journey that ancestors of American Jewry experienced. From the pogroms in Russia, to pioneers in Israel (then Palestine), to Ellis Island, to New York City sweatshops...I loved the Jewish history that this book r
Ellen Rozsa
Oct 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. The story of an unlikely relationship between an elderly Yiddish poet and the young Catholic man who translates his life story. The poet, Itsik Malpesh, survives the pogroms of Bessarabia, Russia to make it to New York's Lower East Side where he eats, sleeps and breathes the poems he writes nearly every waking minute when he's not working in a sweatshop. His muse is a woman he's never met except through family lore, a young neighborhood girl who supposedly saved his life on the day he was b ...more
Jul 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hadn't intended to start this book (or finish it) during the High Holy Days, but much of this book is about bashert (fate) so let's just chalk it up to that, shall we?

Manseau's book Vows caught my attention at ALA years ago, and when I heard him at RUSA's Notable Tastes Breakfast this year I knew I needed to read it. The experience of Itsik/Isaac may very well have been the experience of my family: the escape from the tsar's army, the coming to America and living in an American shtetl, the cha
Susan Emmet
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Serendipitously grabbed this book at the library. Mesmerizing.
So drawn I was to the story of Itsik Malpesh and his "translator," a young non-practicing Catholic who works for a company trying to retrieve and save Yiddish books.
Malpesh's escape from pogrom in Russia, his journey to the lower East Side in a trunk full of wooden printing blocks inscribed in Yiddish letters, his chance meetings with young men with whom he'd been "press-ganged" to serve in the Russian army, the arrival and brief time
Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau was mesmerizingly wonderful. I am so thankful to other bloggers who reviewed it which encouraged me to pick it up. The story is told in two voices and two time periods. It is a story of love and loss, beauty and truth, and faith. It is an old man's memoirs and a young man's thoughts and dreams. The voices and stories are alternated between an old Jewish man, Itsik Malpesh, who has written his life story via the Yiddish alphabet and a young Cathol ...more
Feb 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, jewish
Itsik Malpesh was born in the the town of Kishniev during the middle of a pogrom, just as Christians were forcing their way into the birthing room only to be stopped by a four-year- old girl, Sasha Bimko. From then on in Itsiks's mind, he and Sasha were bashert, though she left Kishniev immediately afterwards. Itsik himself has to flee to Odessa years later where he goes to live with Sasha's mother, though she has gone to Palestine. There he learns the trade of printing, hears Yidishists and Heb ...more
i don't know how i keep picking up all of these jewish books, but somehow when i randomly choose titles off the shelf, a lot of them happen to be by jewish writers.

this book was hard to get into for that reason (i think i just need a break for awhile), and plus, it's told from 2 viewpoints - that of itsik malpesh, a fictional yiddish poet, and a translator in the present day, who is telling the story of malpesh's life. he sometimes explains possible things lost in translation and i tended to ski
Elsie Klumpner
Feb 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is one my favorites I've read this year. There are several stories told at one time, but the main subject of the book is the memoir of a fictional Yiddish immigrant poet that is translated by a young American man who chances upon the elderly poet in Baltimore Maryland.

Themes include the fate of the Yiddish language; the plight of the Jews in Russia in the early 20th century; how translation affects the meaning of what is translated; authenticity; Jewish identity.

The fictional narrato
May 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a really special book, in the vein of History of Love. It is written by a catholic (son of a former nun and a still-priest!!) Peter Manseau was turned on to Yiddish by an African American pastor, and has turned his love for the ancient , dying language into a poetic story. See the Jeff Sharlat (?) review in Goodreads for a more personal background write-up, he is friends with the author. He also gives background into the history of Yiddish lit, and the efforts to keep the language alive. ...more
Dec 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is better than a 4 star. It's probably a 5 minus. A young boy is born in the midst of a pogram, and eventually makes it out of Eastern Europe to America when in his early 20’s. He’s a poet and finds himself on the east side of New York with hundreds of other Yiddish speaking poets who cannot make a living. The book is at once a little mystical or fantastic in the coincidences that occur in his life: people from his childhood showing up in his adult life a world away. But, it is also a story ...more
Dec 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
Don't you love that when employees in book stores write a two-line review to some of the books they sell? It made me buy this one, and I still keep the note with the review in the book. As a fan of jewish tradition it wasn't a hard sell for me.

The two storylines that eventually intersect - the young catholic boy translates the stories Itsik Malpesh, a jew born in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century and fled to the US, wrote down about his life and his everlasting love for his Muse, Sascha
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I haven't enjoyed a book as much as this book since I read "Broken For You." This books tells the story of two men, an 80-something Yiddish speaker and a 20-something working at his first job preserving Yiddish books and teaching himself the language. The 80-something Yiddish poet's story is told as an autobiography and the 20-something's story is told as the translator. The intersection of lives reads something like a Dickens novel. Put this one on your to-read list.
Sep 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading this book, and find myself unable to stop thinking about its thought-provoking ending. The story begins with the birth of a boy,Itsik, born in the midst of a Russian pogram at the turn of the 20th century, and ends with him as an old man in the United States. In the middle we see his obsession with a woman in Palestine he has never met--along with his determination to become a Yiddush poet at a time when people are casting aside the use of the language.
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just exactly the kind of book I love. Itsik Malpesh's life begins in small-town Russia, moves to Odessa and then America. Through it all, he struggles and writes poems for his muse, Sasha. This is as much a love story of Yiddish as it is a love story of Sasha. The one issue that I had at the beginning was the "Translator's Note" -- I didn't realize that the Translator is actually another character in the book -- so don't skip these!
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Goodreads Librari...: typo in a quote 3 16 Jun 22, 2015 07:14PM  
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“The goyim are a curious people," Malpesh once said to me, before he had discovered who and what I was. "Not curious that they want to know things," he clarified, "curious that they don't.” 1 likes
A boy with a story must write. 1 likes
More quotes…