Book Discussion Questions for "Master Butchers Singing Club" by Louise Erdrich
A note of interest: At the All Iowa Reads ICN session on January 27, participants heard a brief radio interview with author Louise Erdrich. She mentioned that the man on the hard cover of The Master Butchers Singing Club is her grandfather, who was a butcher in Minnesota.
Discussion questions from All Iowa Reads committee members:
- One of the library subject headings assigned to The Master Butchers Singing Club is "Triangles (Interpersonal relations)." Which characters are involved in a triangle? Discuss the appropriateness of this subject heading.
- Fidelis' and Delphine's stories join when Delphine "in that fit of longing to see the face of her
mother" meets Eva at Waldvogel Meats. Why are
the two women drawn to each other? Describe the
relationship they develop.
- Discuss the various aspects of love and friendship explored in The Master Butchers Singing Club. With which did you particularly identify?
- Three characters -- Cyprian, Fidelis, and Step-and-a-Half -- have
experienced combat before the book opens. How does this
experience shape the character's personality and way of dealing
- Waldvogel means, literally, "forest
bird." What does singing and the singing club
mean to Fidelis and to the rest of the men in the club?
- Underground is associated with death and dying in Master Butcher. The Chavers are buried alive in Roy's basement; Clarisse prepares the dead in the basement of the mortuary; Marcus almost dies underground; baby Delphine is narrowly saved from dying in the pit underneath the Shimek's outhouse. With what is life and living associated?
- During her airplane ride just before her death, Eva has a vision of a "plan, eine grosse Idee, bigger than the whole damn rules." (pg. 118) Step-and-a-Half, at the book's end, has a dream of "a world where butcher sing like angels." Discuss both Eva's and Step-and-a-Half's visions. How are they alike and how different?
- Near the beginning of Delphine's story, she believes she is
doomed to watch the suffering of others ("disasters,
falling like chairs all around her" pg. 54) while unable
to alter their fate. Is this always true for
Delphine? For all of us?
- Is Delphine a typical child of an alcoholic? How
does Delphine's part in the balancing act help us to understand
- Does Roy become an alcoholic because he lost Minnie's
love? Roy claims, "Nothing can fill the
nothing . . . except love or booze or a great religious
impulse." How does Roy's claim play out in the
book? In life?
- Cyprian is "a balancing expert." (pg.
18) Talk about all the ways that this is a true
- What role does humor play in The Master Butchers Singing Club?
- Were you surprised to learn that Delphine and Mazarine are
sisters? Are there indications that this is so before
Step-and-a-Half reveals it?
- Why do you think the book closes with Step-and-a-Half?
Do you assume that Step-and-a-Half told others of her
relationship to Roy or the circumstances of Delphine's birth?
- Argus, North Dakota is peopled by unusual
characters. But is it really that different than any
Iowa community? Erdrich writes "when small
towns find they cannot harm the strangest of their members, when
eccentrics show resilience, they are eventually embraced and even
cherished." (pg. 89) Discuss.
- Erdrich is obviously a close observer of small town
life. During her tale of the rivalry between the two
butchers, Erdrich comments that a community moves on rapidly to "newer subjects of absurdity or distress. For of course,
every so often the town received a great shock. It
seemed that just as people grew into a false assurance, believed
for instance that their prayers worked and threat evil was kept
at bay . . . something happened." (pg.
43) Is Erdrich's depiction accurate?
- Erdrich creates a wonderful story around Fidelis' immigration
to the United States. What immigration stories are told
and treasured in your family?
- Erdrich gives us a peek at German American culture and
character in the first half of the twentieth century.
Erdrich explains that German Americans, with their tradition of "Zechunst" or "friendly
drinking" (pg. 93) felt Prohibition particularly
keenly. She also references prejudice against Germans
as a result of World War I. Can you support Erdrich
with personal experience or family stories?
- Erich Waldvogel spends time in a German prisoner of war camp in Minnesota. Do you or someone you know have first-hand experience with German POWs incarcerated in the Iowa, Minnesota or elsewhere during World War II?