In this acclaimed fiction debut, "a rich, often ironic homage to Yiddish culture and language" (Publishers Weekly), Peter Manseau weaves 100 years of Jewish history, the sad fate of an ancient language, and a love story shaped by destiny into a truly great American novel.
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’s services. And what the translator finds in ten handwritten notebooks is a chronicle of the twentieth century. From the Easter Sunday Pogrom of Kishinev, Russia, to the hellish garment factories of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Itsik Malpesh recounts a tumultuous, heartrending, and colorful past. But the greatest surprise is yet to come: for the two men share a connection as unlikely as it is life-affirming.
With the ardent and feisty Itsik Malpesh, Peter Manseau has created a narrator for the ages and given him a story that will win over readers’ hearts and keep them turning pages long into the night. Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter is a literary triumph.
Peter Manseau, the author of the nonfiction works Killing the Buddha and Vows, lives in Washington, D.C. This is his first novel.
"An extraordinary novel, and Itsik Malpesh is one of literature's most stunning achievements." -- Junot Díaz
"Songs for the Butcher's Daughter is a completely original and exciting novel that, from its first few lines, holds the reader mesmerised. We are in the hands of a supreme storyteller, an author of wit and charm, one who has a breathtaking flair for language. This is a seriously impressive and accomplished work for a debut novel, identifying Manseau as a writer of great and exciting potential, one able to see the world vividly, even through other people's eyes." -- Weekend Australian
"In his debut novel, [Manseau] reaches across cultures to compose a living, breathing portrait of a bad-tempered but charmingly eloquent poet and the young man chosen to bring his words forward in time...The translator's inexperience puts [poet] Malpesh's cynical voice into perspective, as the young man's clumsy first experiences with modern-day romance stand in stark, sometimes poignant contrast to Malpesh...who remembers his 90-something years with equal parts impish humor and profound melancholy...A terrific book with a believable protagonist who's given ample room to tell his tale." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Songs for the Butcher's Daughter is a book about writing, a warm, funny, and fascinating testament to the power of words, a power that outlives a dying language and transcends love." -- Jewish Book World
"Seductive and playful, the novel, with many unforgettable scenes, is also a serious meditation on language, love, loyalty and memory." -- New York Jewish Week
"Ranging from pogroms to poetry, from the purity of sex to the impurity of translation, from the Pale of Settlement to the Lower East Side to Eretz Yisroael, [and] written with utmost integrity as well as dramatic momentum, Songs for the Butcher's Daughter is a delicious read." -- Melvin Jules Bukiet, author of Sign and Wonders
"One of the most original and gripping novels I've read in a long time. From the very first page, I knew I was in the hands of a mesmerizing storyteller and born writer. Blessed with a biting wit, a huge heart, and a dazzling flair for language -- how we use it and how it defines us -- Manseau is the real thing. This is a gorgeous debut novel." -- Ellen Feldman, author of The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank
"Huge in scope and soul, Songs for the Butcher's Daughter is a sweeping, lyrical, utterly consuming epic. Peter Manseau is a writer with the heart of a mystic, and his novel is an extraordinary gift." -- Elisa Albert, author of The Book of Dahlia and How This Night Is Different
"Songs for the Butcher's Daughter explores with profound insight the treacherous territory of language: its elusive, inconstant and enigmatic character and its fundamental role in how we define ourselves as human beings." -- Linda Olsson, author of Astrid and Veronika
"Peter Manseau has created a rich tapestry of European and American Jewish life at the turn of the twentieth century. This beautifully written novel of love and tragedy is a magic-realist tale filled with wonderful detail. We join Mr. Manseau on a hundred-year journey that weaves together the Old and New Worlds." -- Martin Lemelman, author of Mendel's Daughter