Author: Helen Maryles Shankman
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Summary: I loved how these connected short stories revealed more layers of each character as they went and also how the magical realism and surprising acts of kindness brought hope to otherwise bleak stories.
This collection of connected short stories is set during the Nazi occupation of Wlodawa, Poland. The people we meet there include “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.” (source)
I don’t typically go for short story collections, but connected short stories are a different animal altogether. I loved the way this author used the connection between the stories to reveal new layers to some central characters and to give different perspectives on many of the events in the book. The element of magical realism also made me excited to pick this up and it was as good as I hoped. I liked that the magical realism was often subtle, potentially explicable by more rational means. The author also drew in some mythologies I was less familiar with and enjoyed learning about.
Both the magical realism and the surprising kindness of some characters helped give this potentially very dark book a ray of hope. I particularly enjoyed the conflicting aspects of the main character in the first story, the Nazi officer trying to save one specific individual because of a connection to his son. I don’t, however, have a least favorite story, The author’s writing was beautiful and emotionally evocative throughout. I truly enjoyed every story in this collection and would highly recommend it.