What a great and impressive debut that Gabriella Saab delivered with this novel! Depicting a 14-year-old girl Maria, in an Auschwitz camp where playing chess against a sadistic Karl Fitzsch acting-commandant, is her only chance at survival.
The novel oscillates between 3 different timelines and while keeping us readers on our toes, she manages to bring the whole story together effortlessly. The narrative follows Maria, captured by the Gestapo for her resistance work and the horrors that she will witness. As the first imagery of the chapter, the author mentions a girl clenching a chess piece to her hand, revealing already in that instance that chess will play a big role in the story and even bigger so in her survival, as if it was the only thing that will keep her alive. For those of you who loves watching the games in The Queen’s Gambits, this book will also be to your liking.
Although playing chess is the theme of the book it is not the only task that Maria managed to do, I wept, angered and saddened with every single outburts and failed plans that she had. She is smart, quick thinker but also still a manager. And while some could blame her for her impulsivities, I find it reassuring because yes, that’s how teenagers would behave facing this situation. You would tend to try to do the right thing in your own way no matter what. All the other characters also play a big part to leading to an epic conclusion, Father Kolbe for example, who’s the wisest man described and her parents who were brutually murdered and whose reason why she would never give up, to her inmates who tried to help her little by little. It’s a novel of power, hope, and very moving human dynamics in times of need and desperation.
Thank you to Harper Collins for giving me this book for review!
Review by Trang T.