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The Last Checkmate

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Readers of Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz and watchers of The Queen’s Gambit won’t want to miss this amazing debut set during World War II. A young Polish resistance worker, imprisoned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner, plays chess in exchange for her life, and in doing so fights to bring the man who destroyed her family to justice. Maria Florkowska is many Readers of Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz and watchers of The Queen’s Gambit won’t want to miss this amazing debut set during World War II. A young Polish resistance worker, imprisoned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner, plays chess in exchange for her life, and in doing so fights to bring the man who destroyed her family to justice. Maria Florkowska is many things: daughter, avid chess player, and, as a member of the Polish underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, a young woman brave beyond her years. Captured by the Gestapo, she is imprisoned in Auschwitz, but while her family is sent to their deaths, she is spared. Realizing her ability to play chess, the sadistic camp deputy, Karl Fritzsch, decides to use her as a chess opponent to entertain the camp guards. However, once he tires of exploiting her skills, he has every intention of killing her. Befriended by a Catholic priest, Maria attempts to overcome her grief, vows to avenge the murder of her family, and plays for her life. For four grueling years, her strategy is simple: Live. Fight. Survive. By cleverly provoking Fritzsch’s volatile nature in front of his superiors, Maria intends to orchestrate his downfall. Only then will she have a chance to evade the fate awaiting her and see him punished for his wickedness. As she carries out her plan and the war nears its end, she challenges her former nemesis to one final game, certain to end in life or death, in failure or justice. If Maria can bear to face Fritzsch—and her past—one last time.


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Readers of Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz and watchers of The Queen’s Gambit won’t want to miss this amazing debut set during World War II. A young Polish resistance worker, imprisoned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner, plays chess in exchange for her life, and in doing so fights to bring the man who destroyed her family to justice. Maria Florkowska is many Readers of Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz and watchers of The Queen’s Gambit won’t want to miss this amazing debut set during World War II. A young Polish resistance worker, imprisoned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner, plays chess in exchange for her life, and in doing so fights to bring the man who destroyed her family to justice. Maria Florkowska is many things: daughter, avid chess player, and, as a member of the Polish underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, a young woman brave beyond her years. Captured by the Gestapo, she is imprisoned in Auschwitz, but while her family is sent to their deaths, she is spared. Realizing her ability to play chess, the sadistic camp deputy, Karl Fritzsch, decides to use her as a chess opponent to entertain the camp guards. However, once he tires of exploiting her skills, he has every intention of killing her. Befriended by a Catholic priest, Maria attempts to overcome her grief, vows to avenge the murder of her family, and plays for her life. For four grueling years, her strategy is simple: Live. Fight. Survive. By cleverly provoking Fritzsch’s volatile nature in front of his superiors, Maria intends to orchestrate his downfall. Only then will she have a chance to evade the fate awaiting her and see him punished for his wickedness. As she carries out her plan and the war nears its end, she challenges her former nemesis to one final game, certain to end in life or death, in failure or justice. If Maria can bear to face Fritzsch—and her past—one last time.

30 review for The Last Checkmate

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella Saab

    This book holds such a special place in my heart, and diving deep into this time period has impacted me in ways I can't describe. My hope is that this story, though fictional, will encourage you to learn more about this important and necessary history for yourself. Despite its moments of suffering and loss, this story is meant to be one of resistance, courage, and hope, and to serve as a reminder that goodness and good people will always remain in the world, even when the world is suffering from This book holds such a special place in my heart, and diving deep into this time period has impacted me in ways I can't describe. My hope is that this story, though fictional, will encourage you to learn more about this important and necessary history for yourself. Despite its moments of suffering and loss, this story is meant to be one of resistance, courage, and hope, and to serve as a reminder that goodness and good people will always remain in the world, even when the world is suffering from the darkest evil. And so, dear readers, I've made my opening play. The next move is yours 😉♟

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lura Love

    I wasn't prepared for the crushing blows The Last Checkmate delivered. It was inspiring, heartbreaking, & infuriating, on a high speed rollercoaster. The Last Checkmate is beautifully written, & I'd highly recommend it to absolutely anyone who enjoys a good read. I wasn't prepared for the crushing blows The Last Checkmate delivered. It was inspiring, heartbreaking, & infuriating, on a high speed rollercoaster. The Last Checkmate is beautifully written, & I'd highly recommend it to absolutely anyone who enjoys a good read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    True freedom comes from bravery, strength, and goodness. The only one who can take those from you is you. Maria not only learned how to play chess from her Tata, she also learned important lessons about life including the quote above -- the words he used to comfort her in their last moments together. Before being captured by the Nazis, Maria (at the age of 14) was already assisting in the work Irena Sendler was doing to save Jewish children. The family is captured and sent to Auschwitz. At the l True freedom comes from bravery, strength, and goodness. The only one who can take those from you is you. Maria not only learned how to play chess from her Tata, she also learned important lessons about life including the quote above -- the words he used to comfort her in their last moments together. Before being captured by the Nazis, Maria (at the age of 14) was already assisting in the work Irena Sendler was doing to save Jewish children. The family is captured and sent to Auschwitz. At the last minute Maria is separated and finds herself alone and at the mercy of camp deputy Karl Fritzsch. Because of her skills at playing chess, she is kept alive for entertainment value. We are with Maria during her entire stay at Auschwitz and have an inside look at what she and others do to survive and help each other to move on with their lives afterward. As you will see from the notes at the end of the book, there are many historical figures and events included in the narrative. The game of chess is a continuing theme. I am not a chess player, but imagine that this book will have even greater meaning to those who know and love playing. Will Maria be able to claim "checkmate" in her game against the suffering and PTSD inflicted upon her by the Nazi regime? She might be surprised to discover how she can reach her life goal. Thank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss+ for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Suzzi

    14 years old, sent to Auschwitz. The game of chess and her circle of friends help sustain her life beyond the war.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

    Maria was caught during one of her resistance jobs, and her entire family was punished and sent to Auschwitz. Her family was murdered when they arrived, but Maria was sent to the camp simply because she had slowed up to look at something. She wishes she would have been murdered too. The camp officer, Fritzsch, was the most evil person she had ever known. He enjoyed hurting people both physically and mentally. This officer also found out Maria played chess, and he made her play chess against other Maria was caught during one of her resistance jobs, and her entire family was punished and sent to Auschwitz. Her family was murdered when they arrived, but Maria was sent to the camp simply because she had slowed up to look at something. She wishes she would have been murdered too. The camp officer, Fritzsch, was the most evil person she had ever known. He enjoyed hurting people both physically and mentally. This officer also found out Maria played chess, and he made her play chess against other prisoners and himself. Playing chess helped her stay alive even though she wishes she were dead. THE LAST CHECKMATE describes the horrors the prisoners went through and how Maria kept on fighting as her friend Father Kolbe told her to do. Maria tries to get Fritzsch in trouble so they will transfer him. She goes through more horrors when this happens. She knows he is the one who had her family killed and vows to make sure he is punished after the war when she finds out he survived. She met him and challenged him to a game of chess in the same place where he had treated her like an animal. How will the game turn out? Will Fritzsch win as he always did even without his wartime power or will Maria triumph? THE LAST CHECKMATE is very well written, very well researched, has a very clever use of a chess game within the story line, but very difficult to read as any WWII book. An amazing, heart wrenching debut. 5/5 This book was given to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carla Suto

    THE LAST CHECKMATE by Gabriella Saab is a beautifully-written and heart-wrenching story of a young girl working for the Polish underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Fourteen-year-old Maria Florkowska is captured by the Gestapo while delivering documents for the resistance. After a brutal interrogation, Maria and her whole family are sent to Auschwitz, but only Maria survives the first day. She is saved by the sadistic camp deputy, Fritzsch, but only when he learns she can play chess an THE LAST CHECKMATE by Gabriella Saab is a beautifully-written and heart-wrenching story of a young girl working for the Polish underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Fourteen-year-old Maria Florkowska is captured by the Gestapo while delivering documents for the resistance. After a brutal interrogation, Maria and her whole family are sent to Auschwitz, but only Maria survives the first day. She is saved by the sadistic camp deputy, Fritzsch, but only when he learns she can play chess and he can use her to entertain the camp guards. She knows he will kill her when he becomes bored with their matches. Guilt-ridden over the deaths of her family members, Maria only finds the will to live when she is befriended by a kind Catholic priest and the only other woman prisoner in the men’s camp. Facing unthinkable atrocities over her four years in prison, her only wish is to survive long enough to bring down her family’s killer. It all comes down to one final chess match. Can she bring the murderer to justice? Although the descriptions of the torturous conditions and the suffering and loss in the camps was very difficult to read, this is ultimately a story of courage, perseverance, friendship and love. I really appreciated the extensive Author’s Notes, details of the real historical figures and the miscellaneous facts the author shared at the end. It made it very clear where she took fictional liberties. Be sure to read these sections, but not before reading the book. I enjoyed this compelling and moving story and highly recommend it. Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The Nazis altered these words for their own purposes. Prisoners entering the gates of Europe’s concentration camps saw the words, “Arbeit macht frei,” – “Work sets you free.” In Gabriella Saab’s exquisitely moving, extensively researched debut novel, The Last Checkmate, readers get a unique perspective of a young girl’s experience at the most infamous death camp of all – Auschwitz. At fourteen, Maria’s biggest joy in “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The Nazis altered these words for their own purposes. Prisoners entering the gates of Europe’s concentration camps saw the words, “Arbeit macht frei,” – “Work sets you free.” In Gabriella Saab’s exquisitely moving, extensively researched debut novel, The Last Checkmate, readers get a unique perspective of a young girl’s experience at the most infamous death camp of all – Auschwitz. At fourteen, Maria’s biggest joy in life is playing chess, a game she was taught by her Tata, her beloved father. When she has an opportunity to contribute to the Polish resistance, however, she begs for a chance to prove her worthiness. She’s put to work under the guidance of her cousin Irena, who considers her to be a nuisance. Eventually, her inexperience gets her arrested, and her entire family pays the price as well. One does not need to be Jewish to be transferred to be punished; a Gentile giving aid and comfort will pay a penalty, regardless of age or gender. In her naïveté, since a guard told her that they were “all going to the same place,” Maria assumes that her family will stay together. To her distress, they are soon separated in the crush of humanity. A short while later, she sees naked bodies heaped upon a truck. A prisoner tells her about the execution wall; those deemed too old, too young, ailing, and unfit are shot. It hits her like a thunderbolt. Her parents, little brother, sister are gone. They are dead because of her. Grief and guilt assault her. She meets the man responsible. Karl Fritzsch, the camp deputy, is intrigued with young 16671, in a brutal, callous fashion. When he learns that she plays chess, he challenges her to a game. Upon learning that she is quite skilled for her age, he uses her for his amusement and for a morale-builder for the guards. It doesn’t take young Maria too long to realize that when Fritsch becomes bored and has no more use for her, her life will be over. She almost wishes it were so. Then she meets Father Maksymilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, who befriends her. She fashions a chess set of sticks and stones, and they play for fun. He comforts her when she expresses doubts and fears, as he does for every man in their Block. Yes, they are all men. At the time that Maria first arrived at Auschwitz, there were no female prisoners. Eventually, Maria trusts Fr. Kolbe enough to tell him her story, although not her plans for revenge. The reader knows, however. We are privy to future scenes where Maria encounters Fritzsch for a rematch as she plans to carry out her final checkmate. Will it end there? Initially, I was not enamored with Maria. She struck me as an impulsive brat, one who did not want to listen to advice. I would never have predicted that she could survive four years in Auschwitz. However, it may be her annoyingly clever chess brain that helps her concoct schemes, which, by all rights should fail but somehow manage to succeed. She has help from dedicated friends. Her cousin Irena proves to be a loyal accomplice. A dear Jewish friend, Hania, is a bold barterer who will bargain with prisoners and guards alike. And after a negative first impression, Mateusz becomes a trusted ally. Is every event and scheme in the story believable? Meh. But it seems true to the character of Maria. She has chutzpah. Since Hania is a Jewish woman and a translator, Maria understands the meaning of that word. Hania teaches Maria Yiddish and also comes in extremely useful in other ways. The two women become good friends. One learns the value of friendship in this place, even if it means losing someone in the end. As in many areas of life, in the midst of unspeakable suffering and cruelty, love and kindness do exist. The author has done a thorough job of research, which she describes following the Acknowledgments. Besides the dastardly Karl Fritzsch, other Nazis mentioned are commander of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, who was hanged in 1947, and the infamous guard known as “the Beast”, Maria Mandl, was one of only a few female guards to be executed after the war. Father Kolbe was a real prisoner. (He was canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1982.) There are historical figures from the Polish resistance also. Matylda Getter – Mother Matylda – was the Mother Provincial of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in Warsaw. She assisted in smuggling children from the Jewish ghetto, arranged for false documents, aided civilians, and ran orphanages for the resistance. Witold Pilecki was a Polish resistance leader who infiltrated the camp as a prisoner with a false identity in order to gain intelligence and organize resistance within the camp. (He later escaped, only to be captured by the Soviets in 1947.) Ms. Saab also explains her rationale for including certain fictional scenes and for disruption historical timelines, a technique that is not uncommon in historical fiction. I was initially surprised by one major event that received quite a buildup, but as I continued to read on, it made sense. The characters on both sides felt real. Evil, as always, is incomprehensible, and that comes through quite clearly. The effect of the incarceration, extreme deprivation of physical and emotional comfort and basic needs, including freedom is evident. My heart goes out to all who survive, who still carry the scars of those days and years in their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. We all must speak up when we see injustice. Congratulations, Ms.Saab. Checkmate! 4.5 stars rounded up

  8. 5 out of 5

    Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

    THE LAST CHECKMATE is a deeply emotional historical novel about survival, about war and justice, about friendship and love, and, of course, about chess. I loved Queen's Gambit and couldn't wait for this story, about a young woman playing chess for her life amid the horrors of one of the worst moments in our collective history: World War II. Maria Florkowska is like any fourteen year old, a little reckless, a little selfish, a little immature, but despite this, kind, brave, and altruistic. Along w THE LAST CHECKMATE is a deeply emotional historical novel about survival, about war and justice, about friendship and love, and, of course, about chess. I loved Queen's Gambit and couldn't wait for this story, about a young woman playing chess for her life amid the horrors of one of the worst moments in our collective history: World War II. Maria Florkowska is like any fourteen year old, a little reckless, a little selfish, a little immature, but despite this, kind, brave, and altruistic. Along with her family, she joins the resistance effort in Warsaw, Poland at the beginning of the war, only to be caught by the Gestapo and sent to the notorious prison camp, Auschwitz, where her family dies tragic deaths. Maria is spared on the whim of the real life camp deputy, Karl Fritzsch, who forces her to play chess for his -- and the camp's -- entertainment. Maria must survive, she must find the will to live, and she must do so without losing herself. There are a lot of stories about Auschwitz, all of them heavy, all of them offering little hope. Because of this, I don't usually read them. I made an exception with this book, and I am SO glad that I did. This book is not just another Auschwitz story. It focuses on resistance prisoners at the camp, but in such a way as to also give its due to the many Jewish prisoners who suffered and died there. I loved the element of chess; it made the story and the character of Maria unique in a way I haven't seen before. I also realized how important these stories are, how they need to be read regardless of being sad and difficult. I will definitely be picking up more thanks to Ms. Saab's superb storytelling. Another unique aspect of the THE LAST CHECKMATE is that it focuses not on the main character's romance (though there is one), but on Maria's friendships with other women, namely, Irina and Hania. All three characters are finely drawn, with their own particular character traits, their very real and very human flaws, and their growth, their ability to move past their flaws, to learn from their mistakes, to forgive and to become strong as a result of the challenging circumstances they find themselves in. The three women become not only friends, but each other's family. While Maria sometimes frustrated me, I loved her. Her flaws made her, in my eyes, a living, breathing human being. She is sympathetic in that she cares about people, she feels guilt over her family's deaths, and she is ready to get hurt -- even die -- to save her friends. She is also a smart, talented, and resilient woman, which I always love reading about in historical novels. Maria is strong but believable for her time, an incredibly hard balance to achieve and something that Ms. Saab does effortlessly and with a fierce confidence that absolutely blew me away, especially since it is her first novel. The story itself is fast-paced, the structure and ending executed to perfection, the writing emotional, making the reader feel as if we are in Maria's head, experiencing the hunger and cold, looking across the chessboard at her tormentor, embracing her friends, as guards walk by and the wintry, relentless air fills with smoke, our hearts with despair -- and somehow, despite it all -- with hope, with new life and new beginnings. The ending will leave you tearful in the best, most bittersweet way. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, but also to anyone who just likes a good story. I cannot wait to read more books by this author and to see where her career goes. Judging by this first and most excellent offering, I know it will be very far. Thanks to the author for the ARC. This book, Maria, Irina, and Hania, will stay with me for many, many years to come.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie DeMoss

    The last checkmate is a heartwrenching novel about a young girl who was sent to Auschwitz along with her entire family. She is a talented chess player, and ends up playing chess for her life with the evil deputy of the camp. This is a sad but well researched read. I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Fay

    This was a fabulous book about a horrible time in history. Well written story about perseverance and the courage and will to live through horrible truly evil circumstances.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    The Last Checkmate by Gabriella Saab is a fascinating WWII-era historical fiction novel that kept me on edge and enthralled from beginning to end. This book took me through the full gambit of emotions: stress, sadness, despair, hope, and I have to say not many novels can do all that. Reading Maria’s story, it was horrific yet her responses were intriguing, suspenseful, and fascinating. The narrative and pace were written perfectly. It had me on edge, rapidly turning the pages to find out the end. The Last Checkmate by Gabriella Saab is a fascinating WWII-era historical fiction novel that kept me on edge and enthralled from beginning to end. This book took me through the full gambit of emotions: stress, sadness, despair, hope, and I have to say not many novels can do all that. Reading Maria’s story, it was horrific yet her responses were intriguing, suspenseful, and fascinating. The narrative and pace were written perfectly. It had me on edge, rapidly turning the pages to find out the end. 5/5 stars Thank you NG and William Morrow for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mandi MacLean

    This is a book that definitely deserves more than 5 stars! It is an incredibly powerful and emotional story that is very well written. Everyone needs to read this book

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ginette

    This book was really good. I was fortunate to get an advanced reader copy and hope that fans of WW2 historical fiction will pick up a copy of this and read it. There is always so much heartbreak in a story like this, but the author did a wonderful job with this story. Also, based on the real life characters that were woven into the story, I’m going to look up the recommended resources that were in the authors notes. I highly recommend this book

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Early edition book club read. Very well told story about WWII from the perspective of a 14 yr old Warsaw girl who was captured while trying to run a resistance errand. The Nazi's gathered her and her family and sent them to Auschwitz. The story covers her four torterous years in Auschwitz, how she was finally able to escape and then years later how she returned and was finally able to let go of her past. Well written, engaging story, however, did feel a bit long. Early edition book club read. Very well told story about WWII from the perspective of a 14 yr old Warsaw girl who was captured while trying to run a resistance errand. The Nazi's gathered her and her family and sent them to Auschwitz. The story covers her four torterous years in Auschwitz, how she was finally able to escape and then years later how she returned and was finally able to let go of her past. Well written, engaging story, however, did feel a bit long.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Judy Montgomery

    Absolutely loved this heart wrenching book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    The Last Checkmate by Gabriella Saab Since a few months into Covid I have not been able to read any book that was depressing, especially those dealing with the Holocaust. Then I started The Last Checkmate and I was hooked from the beginning. Ms. Saab made all the characters come alive. I found myself fighting to survive with Maria, Hania, and Irena. They became my friends. They became my family. Normally when an author bounces back and forth in time with different chapters I am bothered but not so The Last Checkmate by Gabriella Saab Since a few months into Covid I have not been able to read any book that was depressing, especially those dealing with the Holocaust. Then I started The Last Checkmate and I was hooked from the beginning. Ms. Saab made all the characters come alive. I found myself fighting to survive with Maria, Hania, and Irena. They became my friends. They became my family. Normally when an author bounces back and forth in time with different chapters I am bothered but not so with this book. Ms. Saab’s transitions were so smooth that at times it took me a few minutes to realize time had changed. This is the debut novel for Gabriella Saab. I look forward to finding out what she is working on for her next book. I will definitely read it! 09.18.21

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I was pleasantly surprised by this debut novel. I really enjoyed the writing style, and would read more from this author in the future. Maria has a complexity I appreciated, especially since she is a young character. This novel really captured my attention and I felt invested in all of the characters involved in Maria's story. I received this book before publication from a Goodreads giveaway. I would highly recommend it for readers once it is published. I was pleasantly surprised by this debut novel. I really enjoyed the writing style, and would read more from this author in the future. Maria has a complexity I appreciated, especially since she is a young character. This novel really captured my attention and I felt invested in all of the characters involved in Maria's story. I received this book before publication from a Goodreads giveaway. I would highly recommend it for readers once it is published.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Wood

    Set in Auschwitz, the story of 14-year-old Maria is one of unimaginable suffering and despair and yet amidst all this horror there is hope. And, ultimately, the power of love. Saab's writing is polished, understated, and engaging, all the more impressive given that this is a debut novel. And a remarkable one at that. Set in Auschwitz, the story of 14-year-old Maria is one of unimaginable suffering and despair and yet amidst all this horror there is hope. And, ultimately, the power of love. Saab's writing is polished, understated, and engaging, all the more impressive given that this is a debut novel. And a remarkable one at that.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    The Last Checkmate is a historical fiction written by Gabriella Saab. It features a revenge plot set amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. In April 1945, three months after Maria Florkowska escaped from Auschwitz, she returns to the camp armed with a gun in order to challenge Nazi officer Lagerführer Fritzsch, who’d tormented her there, to a chess match. Flashbacks provide the backstory of their relationship: At 14, Maria, a chess prodigy, joined the Polish resistance in Warsaw, delivering blank ba The Last Checkmate is a historical fiction written by Gabriella Saab. It features a revenge plot set amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. In April 1945, three months after Maria Florkowska escaped from Auschwitz, she returns to the camp armed with a gun in order to challenge Nazi officer Lagerführer Fritzsch, who’d tormented her there, to a chess match. Flashbacks provide the backstory of their relationship: At 14, Maria, a chess prodigy, joined the Polish resistance in Warsaw, delivering blank baptismal certificates to Jews so they could avoid being sent to the death camps. On one mission, she panicked when she was confronted by German officers, and, as a result, she and her family were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. There, she was separated from them, eventually learning they were executed. She was spared because Fritzsch had been sufficiently impressed by Maria's chess playing to allow her to survive as his regular playing partner. However, when Maria learns that Fritzsch may have personally executed her family, she plots her retribution, but first she needs to survive and escape. The Last Checkmate is written rather well. Saab has written a compelling narrative of courage, perseverance, friendship, and love – it is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. Saab's writing is polished, understated, and engaging. Knowing from the outset that Maria survived the camp reduces the tension in the flashback segments, though they serve to set up a powerful crescendo. All in all, The Last Checkmate is a compelling look at life inside a Second World War concentration camp, and how an intriguing woman prisoner uses chess to prolong her life.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Vivian

    What a rollercoaster of emotions you get when reading this book, sadness, horror, suffering, but also courage, resilience, valor, friendship and love. Gabriella Saab did a magnificent work in describing the horrors of Auschwitz, the resourceful ways the prisoners developed to survive and the subsequent trauma that accompany them throughout all their lives. Even if this is a fictional account nothing prevents it from mirroring reality, prisoner in the concentration camps were forced to use their sp What a rollercoaster of emotions you get when reading this book, sadness, horror, suffering, but also courage, resilience, valor, friendship and love. Gabriella Saab did a magnificent work in describing the horrors of Auschwitz, the resourceful ways the prisoners developed to survive and the subsequent trauma that accompany them throughout all their lives. Even if this is a fictional account nothing prevents it from mirroring reality, prisoner in the concentration camps were forced to use their special skills, and in some cases took advantage of them, in order to survive. In the case of this book Maria, a teenager working for the Polish resistance who is an exceptional chess player and is used by the camp commandant for his amusement and "love of the game". Maria is caught during one of her runs working for the resistance in Warsaw and as a consequence her whole family is detained and sent to Auschwitz, only she survives. The book is extremely well researched incorporating actual personages and events from the period, making it feel when reading it that you are inside the story, which leaves you at times raw and trembling, especially in the torture scenes. You are so ruling at the end of the book for Maria to find peace and justice, will she be able to get it with the last match? Be sure to read the Author's Notes at the end of the book, with explanations of the actual events and people used in the book, and where she took literary liberties. You will learn a lot with this information provided, these notes are as interesting and valuable as the book per se. I truly recommend this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Judie

    This book was given to me as an "Advance Reader's Edition." Many thanks to Goodreads, Harper Collins and William Morrow for the opportunity to read this well researched story. This is a debut novel by the author who tells the tale of a 14 year old Polish, Catholic resistance worker who survived the perils and horrors of Auschwitz, in part by playing chess with one of her captors, a game they both use to mentally "checkmate" each other. As a political prisoner who endures unbelievable conditions, This book was given to me as an "Advance Reader's Edition." Many thanks to Goodreads, Harper Collins and William Morrow for the opportunity to read this well researched story. This is a debut novel by the author who tells the tale of a 14 year old Polish, Catholic resistance worker who survived the perils and horrors of Auschwitz, in part by playing chess with one of her captors, a game they both use to mentally "checkmate" each other. As a political prisoner who endures unbelievable conditions, her resolve to bring her primary nemesis to justice strengthens daily. Several of the characters were actually involved in the travesties--and hopes--that pervaded Auschwitz and Birkenau. The author's note, brief descriptions of these historical figures, and her "miscellaneous facts and info" enrich one's understanding of the characters, happenings of the novel, and historical setting and background. I found the writing and story highly compelling.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Helen Gauthier

    If I could give 10 stars I would. Heartbreaking book about a Polish girl Maria's struggles in Auschwitz where she was imprisoned for 4 years for being part of the resistance. . Maria is tortured and forced to play chess in order to keep living. She said early on in the novel that she wanted to become a chess champion. Her favorite chess piece is the pawn and indeed she becomes one at the prison camp. Characters came alive for me and descriptions were very vivid. I have to say I cried more than on If I could give 10 stars I would. Heartbreaking book about a Polish girl Maria's struggles in Auschwitz where she was imprisoned for 4 years for being part of the resistance. . Maria is tortured and forced to play chess in order to keep living. She said early on in the novel that she wanted to become a chess champion. Her favorite chess piece is the pawn and indeed she becomes one at the prison camp. Characters came alive for me and descriptions were very vivid. I have to say I cried more than once but it was so gripping that I found it hard to put down. Her friendships that she forged were lifesaving and life affirming. An enthralling and emotional read and I truly enjoyed Ms. Saab's debut novel. I hope that she has more to come! Thank you to NetGalley and Book Club Girls for provide the ARC of this book that is due out in October.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    Maria, imprisoned at an internment camp for being a resistance worker for the Polish underground, plays chess in exchange for her life. With the help of her friends, Irena, Hania, Father Kolby, and others she survives her time there. Her life in Auschwitz is brutal. Maria makes plans to avenge the murder of her family against Fritzsch the man responsible. This book provides insight into the daily lives of those placed in internment camps. Their inhuman treatment, seeing their loved ones murdered Maria, imprisoned at an internment camp for being a resistance worker for the Polish underground, plays chess in exchange for her life. With the help of her friends, Irena, Hania, Father Kolby, and others she survives her time there. Her life in Auschwitz is brutal. Maria makes plans to avenge the murder of her family against Fritzsch the man responsible. This book provides insight into the daily lives of those placed in internment camps. Their inhuman treatment, seeing their loved ones murdered, starvation, and sickness are just a few of the heartbreaking suffering encountered in this book. This is a must-read book for those interested in learning more about the atrocities the Nazis were responsible for during WW II.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I have found myself drawn to stories about Holocaust survivors since I was in elementary school, when I first read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I can't explain why; it certainly isn't that I find entertainment in them. I think maybe I find them so important because it breaks my heart that so my people of my generation have largely dismissed the horrors of it, when we could easily have had grandparents who lived through it. At an I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I have found myself drawn to stories about Holocaust survivors since I was in elementary school, when I first read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I can't explain why; it certainly isn't that I find entertainment in them. I think maybe I find them so important because it breaks my heart that so my people of my generation have largely dismissed the horrors of it, when we could easily have had grandparents who lived through it. At any rate, this was one of the most moving Holocaust stories I've ever read, with one of the most beautiful endings. I cannot recommend this highly enough for anyone who appreciates the subject matter and thinks it too important to be forgotten.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Wuthering Vines

    This was an incredibly insightful and compelling WWII historical read. It was a story about revenge but also one of bravery. It was intelligent yet haunting, raw but powerful, heartbreaking but inspirational. I love to read this genre as i find it extremely enlightening and I’m always open to learning more about historical events and especially the polish resistance movement featured in this one. It was an unforgettable story that featured a strong female lead who was constantly questioning what This was an incredibly insightful and compelling WWII historical read. It was a story about revenge but also one of bravery. It was intelligent yet haunting, raw but powerful, heartbreaking but inspirational. I love to read this genre as i find it extremely enlightening and I’m always open to learning more about historical events and especially the polish resistance movement featured in this one. It was an unforgettable story that featured a strong female lead who was constantly questioning what the best strategy was for survival in such a traumatic and devastating environment of Auschwitz. This debut is surely a winner! Checkmate.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kelly F

    “Maybe we aren’t meant to leave the past behind. Maybe we’re meant to bring it with us so we can join others weighed down by the same burdens, and we can carry them together. Maybe that’s how we find peace.” I’ve read so many WWII & Auschwitz accounts (mostly historical fiction) over the years, and this one sits at the top. Well-crafted and a creative weaving of real people (e.g. St Maximilian Kolbe) and others based on victims and survivors. The overall chess analogy is not lost on its readers.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Smitha Murthy

    I don't know why I lost interest in this book. The writing doesn't lose pace, but I think went to this book thinking a woman plays chess with the SS in Auschwitz. She does, but that's kind of just a very small portion that is glossed over because the chess game is more about an allegory and metaphor for the moves made to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. But that's my flawed expectation. And a very stressed state of mind to blame for not liking this book more. There's so much to love in this book I don't know why I lost interest in this book. The writing doesn't lose pace, but I think went to this book thinking a woman plays chess with the SS in Auschwitz. She does, but that's kind of just a very small portion that is glossed over because the chess game is more about an allegory and metaphor for the moves made to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. But that's my flawed expectation. And a very stressed state of mind to blame for not liking this book more. There's so much to love in this book and the highlight is the beautiful friendships.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Donna Shaw

    Warsaw, 1941. Maria, is a 14 year old Polish girl who loves playing chess with her father. She and her family are arrested as political prisoners by the SS. They are quickly sent to Auschwitz. Maria is the only one in her family to escape the first selection for death. She uses chess, not only the game but as a rule of life, to endure the inhuman and brutal treatment of the guards and life in the camp. Maria is a prisoner for about 4 years and survives with the help of a crucifix, a rosary, a co Warsaw, 1941. Maria, is a 14 year old Polish girl who loves playing chess with her father. She and her family are arrested as political prisoners by the SS. They are quickly sent to Auschwitz. Maria is the only one in her family to escape the first selection for death. She uses chess, not only the game but as a rule of life, to endure the inhuman and brutal treatment of the guards and life in the camp. Maria is a prisoner for about 4 years and survives with the help of a crucifix, a rosary, a couple of friends and the desire to bring justice to the guard that killed her family. The author did a great deal of research and wrote a marvelous novel.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra Wiggins

    I received a copy of this book through Goodreads Giveaway and I truly enjoyed it. The author did a wonderful job getting me to step into Maria’s place. It was a moving and wonderfully thought out book of a 14 year old girl being sent to Auschwitz. I cannot imagine how terrifying such an experience would be for anyone much less a teenager. I particularly appreciated the historical summary in the back of the book (which the author suggests you read after finishing the book) which showed the resear I received a copy of this book through Goodreads Giveaway and I truly enjoyed it. The author did a wonderful job getting me to step into Maria’s place. It was a moving and wonderfully thought out book of a 14 year old girl being sent to Auschwitz. I cannot imagine how terrifying such an experience would be for anyone much less a teenager. I particularly appreciated the historical summary in the back of the book (which the author suggests you read after finishing the book) which showed the research and attention to detail given when writing this. I cannot wait for her next novel!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Carol Perreault

    Amazing story of a woman from Warsaw whose father taught her chess very well. Her parents work for the resistance, and at 14, she begins to make deliveries, working with another young woman. She gets caught and she and her family are taken to Auschwitz.

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