Critically praised, beloved by readers, In the Land of Armadillos has an evocative new cover and title, They Were Like Family to Me. Now in Paperback! Available October 4.
1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish citizens. 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 Jewish creator of his son’s favorite picture book; 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: silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker, 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, They Were Like Family to Me is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.
“One of the most original and consistently captivating short story collections to have appeared in recent years…(They Were Like Family to Me) is a singularly inventive collection of chilling stark realism enhanced by the hallucinatory ingredient of top-drawer magical realism, interrogating the value of art, storytelling, and dreams in a time of peril and presenting hard truths with wisdom, magic, and grace.” —Jewish Book Council
“Moving and unsettling…Like Joyce’s Dubliners, this book circles the same streets and encounters the same people as it depicts the horrors of Germany’s invasion of Poland through the microcosm of one village…Shankman’s prose is inventive and taut… A deeply humane demonstration of wringing art from catastrophe.” —Kirkus Reviews
“…by turns forthright and tender, oblique and intimate, brutal and ethereal…Though each story stands beautifully on its own, it is the completed tapestry of interwoven details that finally reveals the entire picture and provides the full emotional depth of the collected stories…The author’s greatest accomplishment is in leaving the horror to speak for itself, and instead giving voice to the enchantment.” —Historical Novel Society
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (October 4, 2016)
1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its monstrous power, Hitler’s SS fires up the new crematorium at Auschwitz and the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish citizens. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival depends on unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire, a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.
“Filled with rich attention to the details of flora and fauna and insightful descriptions of the nuances of rural and small-town life” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town at a crossroads: we meet an SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book; a Messiah who announces that he is quitting; a Jewish girl who is hidden by an outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are the enigmatic 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.
Buy, read, and discuss:
Helen Maryles Shankman’s stories have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Her stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Gargoyle, Cream City Review, 2 Bridges Review, Grift, Jewishfiction.net, and other publications. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Color of Light and the story collection They Were Like Family to Me. She lives in New Jersey, with her husband and four children.
Connect with Helen: