(I received this book for free as part of Goodreads First Reads giveaways).
(This review may contain spoilers).
I think this must be the third or fourth book I’ve read about probably the most awful time in human history. I found this book particularly intriguing, since the game of chess is normally considered a leisure activity… and, of course, things would have been very different in the death camps.
The atmosphere in Auschwitz came across quite intensely, in my opinion. There were some horrific details provided, but it was a terrible, awful time. I could fully understand the prisoners’ need to survive, even going so far as to turn on each other. That people could do those kind of horrific things to others is a terrifying thought and I can only hope that humans will pay attention to the lessons of history.
I did find the book to be rather jarring when it kept switching between the different time frames. It was much more so when some parts of the book were in present tense, while the rest was in past.
It was interesting that I could see traces of humanity in some of the characters who had originally come across as villains. Although I got a bit confused with the descriptions of the moves in the chess games, it was interesting to see it became a true focus point of the… culture (for lack of a better world) in Auschwitz. What I also found interesting was that the camp itself came across almost as a living entity at times.
The interactions between Paul, Emil and Willi in the future were fairly interesting. It was good to see how much Paul had changed and I felt it was easy to empathise with him. I also found it really easy to empathise with Emil. It was easier later on to empathise with Willi – I found it particularly interesting how both he and Emil evolved and changed through the course of the book and the conversations they had with each other.
There were very few emotions other than horror and disgust and sadness raised in me while I was reading this book, but it did affect me on quite an emotional level. I don’t think I’ll be reading this book again… but for one about forgiveness and friendship in the midst of horrible actions, I felt it was worth reading.