Thursday, 31 March 2016

In The Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman

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In The Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman
Pages: 304 (Hardback)

Genre: Magical Realism, Folklore, Holocaust, Short Stories
Publisher: Scribner
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Recommended for fans of:
David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Sun-Mi Hwang's The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly

A radiant debut collection of linked stories from a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, set in a German-occupied town in Poland, where tales of myth and folklore meet the real-life monsters of the Nazi invasion.

1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish populations. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town: we meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book, even as he helps exterminate the artist’s friends and family; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: the enigmatic and silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, In the Land of Armadillos is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

What I Thought:
These intertwined short stories take place in Wlodawa, a small village in Poland during WWII during the nazi occupation and include:

1 In the Land of the Armadillos, narrated by a nazi officer;
2 The Partizans;
3 The Messiah;
4 They Were LIke Family to Me;
5 The Jew Hater, the second story narrated by a nazi officer.

I adored everything about this book from the cover artwork (the author's own) depicting two of the 'fictional' characters from the titular story of the book, to the exquisite prose and narrative of each of the interconnected short stories.

Holocaust written as magical realism fiction ! ... Surely that cannot do justice to the horrific mass murder of so many during this evil period in history.  However, Helen Maryles Shankman has written a beautiful rendition full of mysticism and religious folklore about her characters and married the horrific reality with magical realism perfectly. In an interview with review blogger, Jeffrey Keen, she says; "...Magic is the only way I can approach the horror of what happened across Europe in 1945. Without it, all that is left is grim, inexplicable reality..."

Source: Review and interview:

The stories in this book so affected me that they tore a hole in my soul and I literally cried as the emotive scenes played out, but ultimately I also felt a spark of hope and faith in the eventual power of good triumphing over evil. I held my kindle to my chest on numerous occasions after reading such powerful passages.

In The Land of Armadillos is a book that sucked me in, halted me in my tracks and made me think and evaluate, even reevaluate the actions of certain individuals ... simply stunning, moving, and uplifting ... I want everyone who has a heart to experience this masterpiece. An awe inspiring book that will stay with me for a very long time.

You can read more about In The Land of Armadillos and Helen Maryles Shankman here:

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of In The Land of Armadillos was provided by Scribner via Netgalley in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

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