Friday, November 27, 2015

The Death's Head Chess Club

By:John Donoghue
Location: FIC DON
Genre: Historical, WWII, Brilliant read

I was taught chess by my Dad in our lounge, by the fire on cold winters nights in the heart of Canterbury. Chess has warm memories, and as I now use it in the library to teach and challenge some of our young men, I have grown to value its power to give ability to self determine the plays you make in life. I tell the boys that the queen is the AK47, they like that! I am also so proud my Dad taught me this game as well as my brothers, it is something I have reflected on a bit lately, the things my Dad did to give me a chance to flourish. Like Chess in this book, but it was about survival!

Chess is the centre article to this story about guilt, forgiveness and redemption.This is the story  mainly of three men, the 'watchmaker' and Jew Emil Clement, former SS officer and now priest Paul Meissner and Willi Schweninger who worked in the Propaganda Ministry during WWII.
Going back and forth in time between 1943-44 and 1962, the three men are at a Chess Tournament in Amsterdam when their paths cross. Was it fate that they should meet or divine intervention?
As they share drinks and meals together, over time, they start to tell their stories, and we realise how they are all linked. Their stories started slowly, but gradually we learn what happened at Auschwitz as Emil was the 'unbeatable' chess player who's games became, literally, a matter of life or death.

SS Obersturmf├╝hrer Paul Meissner arrives in Auschwitz from the Russian front. After being badly wounded he is fit only for administrative duty and his first and most pressing task is to improve flagging camp morale. He sets up a chess club which thrives, as the officers and enlisted men are allowed to gamble on the results of the games. However, when Meissner learns from a chance remark that chess is also played by the prisoners he hears of a Jewish watchmaker who is 'unbeatable'. Meissner sets out to discover the truth behind this rumor and what he finds will haunt him to his death..

This is a story of hatred, unlikely friendship, unspeakable cruelty, forgiveness, healing, redemption, guilt and, of course, chess. A deeply moving novel about an impossible friendship, The Death's Head Chess Club challenges us to consider what might be the very limits of forgiveness and what might be the cost of a lifetime of bitterness.



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