The Slaughterman’s Daughter

Written by Yaniv Iczkovits
Review by Mike Ashworth

Motal – an isolated town in the Pale of Settlement, Russia. 1894. Fanny Kreismann is only ten when she develops a fascination for her father’s trade – a slaughterman. Like any indulgent father he gives her a knife and teaches her the skills of his trade. However, she can never follow in her father’s footsteps, and in time she marries and devotes herself to raising her five children. When Fanny’s older sister’s husband disappears, Fanny leaves her family and sets out for the great city of Minsk in search of him. Armed only with a knife and accompanied by Zirek Bershov – old soldier, a man of few words and hero or rogue, depending on your point of view. Together they begin a misadventure that will turn the Secret Police against the Army and upset the whole social and political order.

Like a Russian doll, the novel has stories within stories as the layers of the characters are peeled away. The book is dark and gothic and at times almost unbelievable while the author brings alive the grinding poverty, ignorance, and endemic anti-Semitism of the period. There is also humour, pathos and keenly observed characterisation. If you are looking for something different to read – taking you out of your reading comfort zone – this is for you. Recommended.