The Turtle Catcher

( 29 )

Overview

In the tumultuous days after World War I, Herman Richter returns from the front to find his only sister, Liesel, allied with Lester Sutter, the "slow" son of a rival clan who spends his days expertly trapping lake turtles. Liesel has sought Lester’s friendship in the wake of her parents’ deaths and in the shadow of her own dark secret. But what begins as yearning for something of a human touch quickly unwinds into a shocking, suspenseful tragedy that haunts the rural town of New...

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The Turtle Catcher

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Overview

In the tumultuous days after World War I, Herman Richter returns from the front to find his only sister, Liesel, allied with Lester Sutter, the "slow" son of a rival clan who spends his days expertly trapping lake turtles. Liesel has sought Lester’s friendship in the wake of her parents’ deaths and in the shadow of her own dark secret. But what begins as yearning for something of a human touch quickly unwinds into a shocking, suspenseful tragedy that haunts the rural town of New Germany, Minnesota, for generations.

Woven into this remarkable story are the intense, illuminating experiences of German immigrants in America during the war and the terrible choices they were forced to make in service of their new country or in honor of the old. The Turtle Catcher is a lyrical, vibrant, beautifully wrought look at a fascinating piece of American history—and the echoing dangers of family secrets.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A rural Minnesota town struggling through change before, during and after WWI forms the background for this emotional tale of star-crossed love, vengeance and regret. Liesel, the only girl in a family of men, lives an isolated life on a farm due to her secret identity as a hermaphrodite. Her loneliness is lessened by her friendship with Lester, her mentally challenged neighbor, but when Lester discovers Liesel's secret, Liesel incites her brothers to exact a vicious revenge on him. As the novel skips back and forth through time in elliptical vignettes, Helget illustrates how tensions between the town's German residents, including Liesel, and their more assimilated neighbors eventually boil over into anger and violence as sides are chosen and families are pulled apart. Helget establishes the setting beautifully, pulling the reader immediately into the social milieu of the small town, and even if her prose can veer into preciousness, the novel is, on balance, melancholy but enjoyable. (Feb.)

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Library Journal

In this engrossing first novel, Minnesota memoirist Helget (The Summer of Ordinary Ways) draws on the legacy of her home state's late 19th-century, early 20th-century immigrant past. Yet this story, set in New Germany, MN, also contains the echoes of a haunting folktale. German native Wilhem Richter and newcomer Magdelena Schultz marry and have five children: Benjamin, Herman, Luther, Liesel, and Otto. Wilhelm prospers as a landowner/farmer and from investments in the old country; personally, however, he suffers a despairing loss while persevering under resentment from less successful neighbors. One of these neighboring families, the Sutters, has a son, Lester, and a daughter, Pernilla, who become tragically intertwined with the Richters. A good amount of this novel focuses on the unfolding destinies of several Richter family members, including Herman, Luther, and Liesel. Liesel especially carries much of the story with the depth of her needs and shame. From her doomed relationship with dim-witted Lester Sutter to her struggle to maintain a place within her own family, Liesel is a character readers won't soon forget. Strongly recommended for all public libraries.
—Maureen Neville

Kirkus Reviews
In a dark, sometimes lurid debut, misdeeds and guilt shape the conjoined fates of two feuding families in Minnesota. Death, deformity and derangement are only part of the story; this gothic first novel also ropes in incest, physical abuse and mental disability, not to mention ghosts, spirits and cross-dressing uncles. Set in New Germany, a rural, midwestern outpost with strong roots in Germany, it spans the late 1890s to the 1920s through several generations of the Richters and the Sutters. Wilhelm Richter marries recent Bavarian immigrant Maggie unaware that she is pregnant by her Jewish lover, a secret which both burdens Maggie and convinces her, when her daughter Liesel is born with a "strange organ" at her genitals, that her sin has been made flesh. Pa Sutter, meanwhile, probably beat his wife to death, may have impregnated his daughter Pernilla and certainly assaulted his son Lester badly enough to damage his brain. Maggie dies in childbirth, leaving Liesel to look after her four brothers: Herman, Benjamin, Luther and Otto. The advent of World War I divides New Germany between those still allied to their German roots and those who feel American. Sutter and his cohorts attack anti-war Richter, tar him and burn down his barn, killing Pernilla and Luther in the process. Herman enlists, loses an arm in the war and returns half-crazed by his own battlefield sins. The darkness continues with murder and self-inflicted wounds until eventually there is a chance for atonement. An energetic, oddly shaped historical, lacking polish and control.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594577874
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in 1976, NICOLE LEA HELGET grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways. She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Based on the novel's first chapter, NPR's Scott Simon awarded The Turtle Catcher the Tamarack Prize from Minnesota Monthly.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 29 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(12)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2009

    EXCELLENT!

    This is one of the best books I've ever read. I "skim" through a lot of the books I read, but not this one. I didn't want to miss one word. I even went back and re-read certain chapters so I wouldn't miss anything.
    It is truly an experience.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 26, 2009

    A Good Historical

    As a fan of historical fiction, I quite enjoyed this novel set in the WWI era, a time often overshadowed by the events of later decades. This is an intelligent novel. I would have rated it four stars, but then I watched the video of the affable young author and I felt compelled to add the fifth star. I look forward to more smart books from this writer.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2008

    Great Novel!

    I'm from Mankato and somewhat familiar with the author since she lives here and teaches at the college I went to. An advanced copy of this book has been floating around and I read it and loved it. It's so cool to read about this area in a time I didn't really know much about. The characters are so interesting, especially Leisel and Lester. Their love-story is so sad! I also really liked the humor that she adds in. The book is organized kind of strange, but so was her first book. This is a great book that everyone should read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2013

    Showed real promise....

    ...but was disappointed in the end. No substance, but well-written, if such a thing can be believed. The story that got nowhere...and not fast.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2012

    Forest

    Forest

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2012

    Recommended

    Very interesting book. It kept my attention, although the subject matter is very disturbing at times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2011

    Interesting but disturbing reaad Interesting but disturbun Interestig read Disturbing read

    This book absorbs you... but te story is disturbing

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  • Posted February 24, 2011

    Good Fast Read

    Good amount of detail. Tragic, but not completely depressing. Easy to read, fast paced but still gives significant details.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2010

    Historical fiction lovers will enjoy this novel.

    The time period from 1900-1920 is a unique one that is brought to life through the eyes of a German family in New Germany, Minnesota. The author captures your interest right away and draws you into the lives of these characters. She mysteriously reveals background information a little at a time to keep you wanting more.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 22, 2009

    An unexpected find

    Although the beginning was a bit dramatic, I was pleased to find a deep and touching story in this book. Each character is so well developed that you will not be surprised at their destinies. Very enjoyable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 1, 2009

    Spellbinding

    Fascinating story.Such choices some people make!Well worth reading.Nicole Helget should not be compared to other authors.I think she has the ability to really shine on her own.

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    Posted May 2, 2009

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    Posted March 31, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2011

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    Posted May 3, 2010

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    Posted April 12, 2009

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    Posted March 16, 2009

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    Posted December 21, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews

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