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review 2016-07-08 02:57
Review: In the Land of Armadillos
In the Land of Armadillos: Stories - Helen Maryles Shankman

This collection of interconnected short stories holds considerable promise: magic realism meets WWII-era occupied Poland. I loved the architecture, how the stories looped around unexpectedly and became one tangled mess. The best stories were superb, layered tales of beauty and astonishment. These are stories where brutal reality and heartfelt magic collide against a backdrop of vivid color.


As a whole though, In the Land of Armadillos left an acidic taste in my mouth that gives me pause to honor this book with the highest praise. How can I best describe it? At their best, the stories in this collection are heartbreaking and relevant, but the stories can grow a bit maudlin, a tad overcloying in their sentimentality. If Hallmark commissioned Salman Rushdie to produce a WWII miniseries for their network, I think it would look a little like this. It wouldn't necessarily be a bad production, but it would feel off, you know what I'm saying?

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text 2016-02-03 11:19
Spotlight & Giveaway: In the Land of Armadillos

02_In the Land of Armadillos

In the Land of Armadillos: Stories by Helen Maryles Shankman

Publication Date: February 2, 2016

Scribner/Simon & Schuster

eBook & Hardcover; 304 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/WWII/Short Stories/Literary

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A Spring 2016 Discover Great New Writers selection at Barnes & Noble.

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.


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“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

“Every story in this remarkable collection reveals Helen Maryles Shankman’s talent for surprising, disturbing and enlightening her readers. Blending the horrors of war with the supernatural, she creates a literary landscape that is strangely mythical and distinctively her own. These stories haunted me for days after I finished reading them.” – Sarai Walker, author of Dietland


“With unflinching prose and flashes of poetry Helen Maryles Shankman spirits her readers back through history to the Polish hamlet of Wlodawa during the dark days of Nazi occupation. Horrific reality and soaring fantasy meld in serial stories that include an avenging golem, an anti-Semite who shelters a Jewish child, brutal SS officers who lay claim to ‘their own Jews’ and an unlikely messiah whose breath smelled of oranges and cinnamon. That scent will linger in the memory of readers as will the haunting stories in which barbaric hatred is mitigated by the reflection of a survivor who reflects that love is a kind of magic. There is, in fact, literary magic in these well told tales.” – Gloria Goldreich, author of The Bridal Chair


“Populated with monsters and heroes [human and perhaps not], but mostly with ordinary people caught up in horrific events they neither understood nor controlled – this series of intersecting stories drew me in completely, making me read them again to find all the connections I missed the first time. The writing is fantastic, and I marvel at Shankman’s literary skills.” – Maggie Anton, author of the bestselling Rashi’s Daughters trilogy

“In The Land of the Armadillos is a moving collection of beautifully written short stories that readers of Jewish fiction will celebrate. Not to be missed.” – Naomi Ragen, author of The Sisters Weiss

About the Author03_Helen Maryles Shankman

Helen Maryles Shankman lived in Chicago before moving to New York City to attend art school. Her stories have appeared in numerous fine publications, including The Kenyon Review, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Grift, 2 Bridges Review, Danse Macabre, and JewishFiction.net. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine's Winter Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Her story, They Were Like Family to Me, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Shankman received an MFA in Painting from the New York Academy of Art, where she was awarded a prestigious Warhol Foundation Scholarship. She spent four years as as artist's assistant and two years at Conde Nast working closely with the legendary Alexander Liberman. She lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year, spending the better part of each day in an enormous barn filled with chickens, where she collected eggs and listened to the Beatles. Shankman lives in New Jersey with her husband, four children, and an evolving roster of rabbits. When she is not neglecting the housework so that she can write stories, she teaches art and paints portraits on commission. In the Land of Armadillos, a collection of linked stories illuminated with magical realism, following the inhabitants of a small town in 1942 Poland and tracing the troubling complex choices they are compelled to make, will be published by Scribner in February 2016.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, February 2 Review at Worth Getting in Bed For

Wednesday, February 3 Review at Library Educated

Spotlight & Giveaway at It's a Mad Mad World

Thursday, February 4 Review at A Chick Who Reads

Friday, February 5 Guest Post & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation

Monday, February 8 Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, February 9 Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, February 10 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, February 11 Review at I'm Shelfish

Monday, February 15 Review at Back Porchervations

Tuesday, February 16 Guest Post at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, February 17 Review at Cynthia Robertson's Blog

Friday, February 19 Review at Ageless Pages Reviews


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review 2015-11-19 17:01
In the Land of Armadillos: Stories - Helen Maryles Shankman

”...the world as it used to be, a world run by the seasons, not by soldiers with machine guns. With harvest dances and girls who wore flirty, flouncy skirts, singing as they spun flax in their parents’ parlors. When neighbors helped one another instead of running to tell tales, where people made an honest living working the land of their fathers, where it was against the law to kill another man’s children because of how they worshipped or the color of their hair.”
Excerpt from the story The Jew Hater

photo Girl20in20Pink_zpsyboqueci.jpg
Ultimately for civilisation to ever be considered a true civilisation we must set aside those things that make us different and truly see a child as a child as a child. If we can see the child we can see their fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles as simply slightly different people from our own fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles. We all want to live and prosper, celebrate and grieve, and pass on our stories so the future always has a chance to learn from the past.
(JK comment.)

Helen Maryles Shankman asked if I would be interested in reading an advance reading copy of her new collection of short stories and I couldn’t reply fast enough...uhhhh yeah!! The stories are set in the city of Wlodawa, Poland during WW2. When you read these short stories you will have a chance to meet people who are surviving through various means such as collaborating, or by fleeing to the woods, or by ignoring the brutality perpetrated on their neighbors and hoping and praying that the terror will continue to move past them. There are no rules. Violations are arbitrarily decided and punished. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time takes on new meaning. What happened to the Jews seems like something that was concocted out of the mind of a novelist. How could such an atrocity happen in the 20th century?

But it did.

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review 2014-10-01 11:10
Armadillos! Learn About Armadillos and Enjoy Colorful Pictures - Look and Learn!
Armadillos! Learn About Armadillos and Enjoy Colorful Pictures - Look and Learn! (50+ Photos of Armadillos) - Becky Wolff

3.5 Stars, Borrow it


This wasn’t too bad. Strong fact wise. The pictures were pretty decent.  Overall pretty average but I did learn a bunch of stuff about Armadillos.

Did you know?


Armadillos are most closely related to sloths and anteaters

Armadillos armor plating is made up of actual bones (Awesome, didn’t know that)

They give birth to four babies at a time (I assume this is an average?)

Armadillos are good swimmers and can walk underwater

They sleep an average of 18.5 hours a day

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review 2014-02-21 05:30
The Edges of Epistemology: The Gospel of Z
The Gospel of Z - Stephen Graham Jones

Cross-posted on Soapboxing


There is no other monster more contested than the zombie. Call any creature which doesn't adhere to strict Romero-style zombie epistemology - it runs, or it's not exactly dead, or it can talk, or whatever - and someone will jump down your throat. I tend to take a functional definition of your fictional monsters, meaning I'm less interested in static attributes, and more interested in how those attributes are deployed in context. Meaning if it walks like a duck even though the text calls it a chicken, you might as well treat it like a duck in terms of how that fowl functions.


Take, for example, the vampires in Twilight. There is very little to the creature called vampire by Meyer that adheres to the folklore. They're undead, and contagious, but they sparkle, cross running water, and can go out in sunlight with no deleterious effects. (I'm not even clear on whether they drink blood, or if they consume flesh too.) No one questions whether they're vampires though, because the whole functional definition of a vampire has to do with predatory aristocracy, sexual and class politics, and certain kinds of body horror, especially as regards to procreation. (Maybe this last isn't in the traditional folklore, but since Claudia in Interview with a Vampire, it's definitely a thing.) Her vamps are just ducky, even if their attributes are only vampish. 


But call the creatures in I Am Legend zombies, and you will get into serious trouble with the neckbeards, even though they (the zombies, not the neckbeards) adhere to the functional definition of the zombie. They're relentless; they outnumber "normal" humans (the opposite is almost always the case with vamps); they presage or have caused the end of the modern world; their body horror is not based on their sexual attributes, but on revulsion and rot. (Also, bearing in mind I'm talking about the Will Smith and Vincent Price films, not about the source novel. Those creatures are an interesting inversion.) Additionally, those movies have lots of the motifs of a zombie narrative: besieged homesteads, traumatic loss of loved ones, the slow madness of the lonely. 


I guess my point is this: I've gotten into a lot of pointless, stupid arguments on these here Internets about the definition of the zombie, and I wonder why the definition is such a big deal to people. I wonder why people police that definition so narrowly. My pet theory is that zombie narratives are often about race and class, and we're all pretty kinked about those definitions as well. Like when I see idiots say things like "Obama is half white, so I'm not being racist when I say this racist thing about him." Race isn't like swirl ice cream, but a complicated slurry of competing functional definitions. In other words, race can't be defined by attribute; it can only be defined by function. But holy god do we want it to be defined by attribute in our biologically deterministic little hearts. Ditto zombies. 


But pet theory aside, I think the other things about zombie stories is that they are new on the scene, relatively speaking, so they have a kind of same-same to them. Although the whole sexy aristocrat thing is new to the vampire - older folklore has vampires as more zombie-ish ghouls who are decidedly unsexy - the folklore is old enough to allow wide latitude in definitions based on attribute. We've got at least a hundred years of sexy aristocrat blood-drinkers. You can date the modern zombie to Romero's Night of the Living Dead, no question, which was filmed not long before I was born, cough cough. The motifs have yet to fully differentiate through a century of reiteration and reimagining. We're still working out the tropes, collectively.  


Which is why The Gospel of Z by Stephen Graham Jones is notable. No, the zombies are more or less your granddaddy's Romero zombies - neckbeards take note - but there's a fundamental weirdness to the proceedings that stretches the motifs, moves the markers, and fucks with the same-same. It's ten years after the zombie apocalypse - or zombie apocalypses, as the end of the world was a slow, bleeding affair in this this novel, a series of last nights before the very last night. We pop into the life of the "more or less white" Jory Gray, low level schmuck who lives in the militarized encampment of what's left of half of humanity. His girlfriend left him recently for the Church on the hill, the other half of what's left of humanity.


It's whispered by the working stiffs that the Church both worships and has neutralized the zombie threat, but this is the kind of whispering that occurs between all working stiffs, and it's both envious and disbelieved. Jory works building Handlers, a kind of superzombie built out of mad scientry and bureaucracy. The Handlers are used to differentiate zombie flesh from the edible, human kind, scrambling in the dirt to eat our remains unless our remains want to eat right back. They're also fucking terrifying, in a way, this barely restrained weapon used for the most prosaic ends. Everyone can see how they're going to go wrong, and spectacularly, but everyone is just some asshole trying to get by.


Everyone is shades of Jory Gray, trying hard not to be noticed until they are, and then fuck, maybe I'll have to come to terms with that thing that one time. Maybe the apocalypse has more to do with one moment with a hammer than it does with anything that goes on later. Maybe we're all working though that one trauma, and the zombies and superzombies and everything else is a memento mori, but a memento mori with teeth and a descant. Jones's prose is nasty, pointed, that kind of horror writing that runs everyday until it escalates, and then it's well over the fence. Catch up; keep up. 


I thought the climax was confused a bit - what the fuck was that one thing - but the parts that ran everyday honestly wrung me out. So much of the end of it all is the end of the one true thing, the thing you keep trying to find once it's lost, and when you find its reminder, you sit on the floor of the bedroom and weep. You kill something with a knife made of bone. You go to work everyday like a schmuck, because that's what you've got in you. That's the only thing left, until it isn't. Who even knows. 


The Gospel of Z feels non-functional, in a way, this fucking weird, armadillo-ridden narrative, too personal, too specific. This is something left out of the canon: a side story, an apocrypha, a letter to the Galatians. This is a vision on the road to Damascus brought on by epilepsy. This is a parking lot with a good vantage. Which makes it somehow perfect for the zombie narrative, giving you good, Romero zombies that no one could argue to do this crazy thing on the edges. God bless, and good night. 


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