“An understated and devastating novel…”

KIRKUS REVIEW

An understated and devastating novel of the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation, as seen through the eyes of a street-wise boy.

Shepard has recently earned more renown for his short stories (You Think That’s Bad, 2011, etc.), but here he presents an exhaustively researched, pitch-perfect novel exploring the moral ambiguities of survival through a narrator who’s just 9 years old when the tale begins. He’s a Jewish boy living in the Polish countryside with his family and an odd sense of his place in the world. “It was terrible to have to be the person I was,” he despairs, matter-of-factly describing himself as basically friendless, a poor student, and an enigma to his loving mother: “She said that too often my tongue worked but not my head, or my head worked but not my heart.” Yet Aron proves to be engaging company as he describes the selfishness that will help him survive as the world becomes increasingly hellish. The horrors are so incremental that Aron—and the reader—might be compared to the lobster dropped into the pot as the temperature keeps rising past the boiling point. Aron’s perspective is necessarily limited, and he often seems to have little understanding of what’s happening around him or why. His family is pushed into the city, and in the ghetto’s chaos, he’s separated from them. Serving as a moral counterweight to the boy’s instinctive pragmatism is Dr. James Korczak, a real-life Polish Jew whose ambition to “become the Karl Marx of children” inspired him to keep a couple hundred alive through his orphanage, which he supports by begging for funds from the better-off ghetto inhabitants. Aron becomes the doctor’s ward and accomplice, though he has also been serving as an occasional informer for the Gestapo through an intermediary in the Jewish police. He tries to use his position to help save the doctor from being sent to a concentration camp, but the doctor is only interested if he can save all the other children as well. “How do we know if we love enough?” asks the doctor. “How do we learn to love more?”

Find the full review here.

The Book of Aron

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Huge news for Jim Shepard fans – his new novel is coming out in May 2015, and it’s going to be incredible.  Here’s the information from Knopf:

The acclaimed National Book Award finalist—“one of the United States’ finest writers,” according to Joshua Ferris, “full of wit, humanity, and fearless curiosity”—now gives us a novel that will join the short list of classics about children caught up in the Holocaust.

Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar and unhappy young boy whose family is driven by the German onslaught from the Polish countryside into Warsaw and slowly battered by deprivation, disease, and persecution. He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle and trade contraband through the quarantine walls in hopes of keeping their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters alive, hunted all the while by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police, not to mention the Gestapo.

When his family is finally stripped away from him, Aron is rescued by Janusz Korczak, a doctor renowned throughout prewar Europe as an advocate of children’s rights who, once the Nazis swept in, was put in charge of the Warsaw orphanage. Treblinka awaits them all, but does Aron manage to escape—as his mentor suspected he could—to spread word about the atrocities?
Jim Shepard has masterfully made this child’s-eye view of the darkest history mesmerizing, sometimes comic despite all odds, truly heartbreaking, and even inspiring. Anyone who hears Aron’s voice will remember it forever.

You can pre-order you copy today, right here, at Amazon or Powell’s Books.

Throwback Thursday: Jim in the New Yorker

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In her article “The World Lives With Water,” Elizabeth Minkel discusses Jim Shepard’s story “The Netherlands Lives with Water.”  Here’s an excerpt: 

Marital problems, and an unwillingness to directly confront them, are an undercurrent through the story, but I was completely wrapped up in Shepard’s imagined future, where the Netherlands calmly tries to control the uncontrollable: rising seas and an explosion of natural disasters. The technical details are remarkably engaging, but it’s the description of the floods—future floods, and the North Sea flood of 1953, the Watersnoodramp—that left me genuinely shaken:

 

Now that our land has subsided as much as it has, when the water does come, it will come like a wall, and each dike that stops it will force it to turn, and in its churning it will begin to spiral and bore into the earth, eroding away the dike walls, until the pressure builds and that dike collapses and it’s on to the next one, with more pressure piling up behind, and so on and so on until every last barrier falls and the water thunders forward like a hand sweeping everything from the table.

 

It’s hard to read, even as the news from upstate and New England has dropped off dramatically in recent days. Nearly a million people up and down the Eastern seaboard are still without power, and the cleanup from the floods has just begun. Updates from my family are heartbreaking—my father works in Schoharie County, one of the worst hit areas in New York State, and even though the several feet of water have subsided, the flood’s detritus remains. And the water levels are as high as they can be; the ground is saturated. If another storm sweeps through, the devastation could be unimaginable.

 

And now, on this mild, cloudless day in New York City, it’s strange to think that a week ago we were laying sandbags at the floodgates along the East River. Last Friday, as a co-worker and I studied the emergency flood map—I live in north Brooklyn, a block from the border of Zone C, and he lives at the southern tip of Manhattan, Zone A, and subsequently left town that night—I couldn’t help but think that what we were really looking at was a map of places that, after a few decades of rising sea levels, may no longer exist. Shepard writes about a quality of Dutchness, pessimism married with practicality, which makes the nation ideally suited for fighting the oncoming seas. I am as un-Dutch as they come, and the idea of the East River spilling up and over the streets of my neighborhood leaves me anxious and incredibly sad. Re-reading “The Netherlands Lives with Water” helped. Shepard’s prose is balanced, steady, and subtly beautiful.

 

Read the full article here.

 

Rob Mclennan Reviews “Master of Miniatures”

 

 

 

 

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“Emotionally complex, haunting and deceptively straightforward….Through Master of Miniatures, Shepard writes out a man who masters both filmmaking and miniatures, as well as a number of personal losses from which he can never recover. Shepard shows just how much the trauma of what Tsuburaya had lived through had permanently changed him, a realization he doesn’t entirely comprehend, and one that he begins to suspect far too late. This is a deeply fulfilling and unsettling novel, one that doesn’t end well or let easily go.”  Read the full review here. 

Jim Pays Tribute to Alice Munro

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The short story has had its moment of glory this year with the wonderful Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature this year.  Jim, a master of the short story himself, had this to say in a Washington Post article:

“I imagine fiction writers everywhere today are celebrating the Nobel Committee having gotten it exactly right. There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story, or who has done more to revolutionize the use of time in that form, the result often being a 20-page story that demonstrates the breadth and scope of a novel.”

Click here to read the full article.  And we’re sure that lovers of short stories are still celebrating Alice Munro’s win, and hoping the short story continues its time in the spotlight.