Official Plot Description: Having survived World War I, Fidelis Waldvogel returns to his quiet German village and marries the pregnant widow of his best friend, killed in action. With a suitcase full of sausages and a master butcher’s precious knife set, Fidelis sets out for America. In Argus, North Dakota, he builds a business, a home for his family—which includes Eva and four sons—and a singing club consisting of the best voices in town. When the Old World meets the New—in the person of Delphine Watzka—the great adventure of Fidelis’s life begins. Delphine meets Eva and is enchanted. She meets Fidelis, and the ground trembles. These momentous encounters will determine the course of Delphine’s life, and the trajectory of this brilliant novel.
Why Argus, North Dakota, you may ask. Because, that is where he ran out of money to travel any further west. He sells his sausages along the way to obtain money for food and further train fare. And Argus is where he ended up.
Delphine, the only child of her single parent father — the town drunk and ne’er-do-well, leaves home to make a career maybe on the stage, meets Cyprian, the absurdly handsome feller. They create a balancing act, take it on the road, and eventually end up back in Argus, where she meets Eva, Fidelis’ wife, who treats her like a mother would, and the two become fast friends.
The evolving events suck us into a mystery involving dead people in the locked cellar of Delphine’s house, a sheriff obsessed with the town mortician — a young woman who inherited her family business and can’t get a boyfriend due to her profession, a strange woman, Step-and-a-half, so named for her long strides, who wanders the town in the night looking for scraps and throw-aways. And of course, the butchers singing club, composed of the town’s two butchers and a number of other men who like to sing. Think Barbershop Quartets.
A lovely story, a love story, a friend story, fun characters, a nod as usual for Erdrich to the Native Americans of the area, and a description of life in the Dakotas in the period between the two great wars. It is a story of pairs: friends, lovers, non-lovers, enemies-no-longer-enemies, children-parents, life-death.
Just a fine book. Gotta get me some more of her work. Yessiressbob.
Oh, by the way, she tells us that the picture of the young butcher on the cover is her grandfather Ludwig Erdrich. He fought in the trenches on the German side in WWI, and his sons served on the American side in WWII.