The Death’s Head Chess Clup – John Donoghue

One of the real joys about Realreaders, is that you are often sent books that you may not have chosen for yourself based on the information on the cover. This was one of those books for me. The Death’s Head Chess club focuses throughout on life, and death, in Auschwitz. More particularly, on the efforts of Obersturmfuhrer Meissner’s efforts to raise morale amongst the staff by starting a chess club. This sounds so incongruous initially that it is difficult to see how the tale might develop. The book is based around events in Auschwitz in 1944 and 1962 in Amsterdam where a presitious chess competition is being held. Two of the competetors drawn in an early round are Emil, formerly a prisoner at Auschwitz, and Willi a German. At first it isn’t even clear whether this first match will take place, then as the story develops, we learn more and more about events during the war that have shaped the lives of Emil, Willi and Paul[the Obersturmfuhrer, now a bishop!]. It isn’t a ‘cosy’ book to read, but it is a very rewarding one. I don’t know how accurate the descriptions of life in Auschwitz are, but they feel realistic, and as well as the barbaric happenings there, we are given an occassional glimpse of humanity. To say much more about the story would spoil the effect for other readers, but I do highly recommend the book. Though I found some of the descriptions of opening moves a little disconcerting [for a non-chess player] they are brief and can be skipped over. The book is absorbing from beginning to end, and I will look for more work by this author. Thank you to Realreaders for my copy for review.

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