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Excerpt from King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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King of the Armadillos

by Wendy Chin-Tanner

King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner X
King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2023, 336 pages

    Sep 17, 2024, 336 pages


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Sticking his face out the window, Victor tried not to breathe in the road dust. To his right was a high metal fence topped with a loose braid of barbed wire. On the left, a low, hilly area with overgrown shrubs and trees. They were going slow enough now that if he wanted to, he could jump out of the car and run. Given his condition, though, the driver would probably catch him before he got too far. And even if he didn't get caught, where would he go? They'd only passed one little town.

"Almost there," said the driver, glancing at him in the rearview mirror. "You all right?"

Victor nodded, his throat too tight and dry to talk. He turned to the window again.

"The Mississippi's on the other side of that levee," the driver added.

The slight summer fetidness of the water hit Victor's nostrils along with a spicy, evergreen smell. His breath dropped down to his belly, slowed.

Above the tree line, a pair of birds scanned the river for fish, tracing slow circles in the air, black against bright blue. He'd forgotten that the sky could be like this, so broad and bare, unbroken by buildings or telephone poles. He hadn't seen anything like it since he left China, when, crossing the ocean, there'd been nothing but air above water as far as his eyes could see. It hadn't occurred to him until just now that he could miss such a thing. With a light, experimental touch, he traced the metal of the door handle, his skin registering heat.

The nurse shook herself awake as they arrived at a set of iron gates. A guard scurried to open them and the station wagon drove toward a big white mansion. Columns like the ones in front of the courthouse in Manhattan studded the upstairs balcony, where metal railings bent in swoops and curlicues. Neatly mown lawns and flowering bushes surrounded the mansion, and just like in the brochure they'd given him at Bellevue, Victor could see an avenue of trees, old and twisted and draped with moss, leading to a broad white building that looked like a hospital. It had columns, too, but was simple, more modern than the mansion in the front. He spotted some smaller buildings in the distance. Maybe those were the dorms. Looking out at the grounds in that direction, he saw so much green that he could barely make out the fence he'd seen from the road.

"The administration building's right there," said the nurse, pointing out the window. "They call it the Big House. Used to be a plantation. They should have all your records. I'll send your father a telegram to let him know you're here."

"Thanks," Victor said, taking a deep breath.

The chauffeur opened the car door for him.

"Good luck," he said.

Victor met his eye and nodded as he set his feet on the ground. His body still felt the motion of the station wagon. He unclenched his jaw.

Waiting in the shade on the front porch was a nun with a kind, delicately lined face. Her dark blue robe had a heavy-looking skirt that reached the ground and a white collar over her chest. Instead of the simple black-and-white headdress Victor was used to seeing on the nuns in New York, she was wearing a stiff white headpiece folded around her face in two big arcs like a seagull's outstretched wings.

"Welcome to our home," she said, consulting the folder in her hand. "You must be Victor."

"Yes, ma'am." He wondered how she could stand the heat covered in all that fabric.

"You may call me Sister Laura. What name will you be taking?"


"Don't say 'what,' say 'pardon,'" she corrected. "It's more polite. Some of our patients choose to go by different names here, on account of their families, but it's up to you."

Victor frowned. He didn't want to cause any more trouble, but New York was far enough away that he didn't think it would matter.

"I'd like to keep my own name," he said.

"As you wish." Sister Laura placed a warm, dry hand on his shoulder, surprising him. She was the first person outside his family to touch him without gloves since he was diagnosed.

Excerpted from King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner. Copyright © 2023 by Wendy Chin-Tanner. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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