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Songs for the Butcher's Daughter    by Peter Manseau order for
Songs for the Butcher's Daughter
by Peter Manseau
Order:  USA  Can
Free Press, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

A very different unfolding of a great tale, Songs for the Butcher's Daughter is about a young Christian man who gets caught up in translating a Jewish memoir. Parts of the book are the memoir and parts are the translator's message to us about how he got to the memoir, what he thinks of the process of translation, and, more importantly for him, how he begins to be seen as Jewish himself.

The memoir is an epic tale beginning in a small town in Russia, where a young boy's family is victimized in a pogrom, and the tale that grew out of that event becomes the key to that boy's life as he matures and becomes a poet. We learn about life in Russia at that time, and about Jews who leave to go to Palestine (before the birth of Israel) and to the United States. Finally, Itsik the poet also travels to the U.S., where he becomes part of the vividly portrayed Yiddish quarter of New York during the Depression.

First-time novelist Manseau cleverly brings the story of the now-elderly poet together with that of the young Jewish imposter. Along the way, we are treated to a wonderful view of how it was to be a Jewish immigrant in New York. If you speak and write only Yiddish in a land where that language is not acknowledged by the majority, the role of translator becomes more than meaningful: 'For a writer who has outlived his tongue, there is no other means of contact ... without a translator, who would unzip the words?'

This a warm and heartfelt story about people who find hope through love, even when that love is impossible. Highly recommended.

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