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[25] Shadow Without a Name – Ignacio Padilla

Life is an ongoing, premeditated chess game and those who live life move like pawns on the chessboard. The chess game that took place in a train at the dawn of World War I in Ignacio Padilla’s book, Shadow Without A Name, irreparably changed the lives of at least four men whose identities became warped even after death. The novel cleverly evokes the question of identity and selfhood against the historical backdrop of the darkest period of the twentieth century, as men appropriated names of each other, shielded off past memories and adopted new identities in the hope of a changed, better destiny. It was a time in which the truth became shrouded by lies and the lies adopted as truth.

Four men contribute to the narrative, which, in an overlapping interval of time, recounted the sequence of events that spanned decades as well as continents following the chess game in 1916, between Viktor Kretzschmar and Thadeus Dreyer.

In 1957, in Buenos Aires, Franz Kretzschmar reminisced his father, Viktor Kretzschmar, who faced Thadeus Dreyer on a chessboard for a life-and-death game. The winner would take Kretzschmar’s identity as a railway signalman in Salzburg and the loser would head to the Austro-Hungarian eastern front, which promised death. When Franz’s father (the true and only Thadeus Dreyer whose name had been appropriated and incarnated throughout the book) won the game, little did he know the exchange of documents would lend him a warped identity though he saw the deadly wager as a promise of immortality. However he despised trains, Franz’s father approached the job with unbounded enthusiasm and not the slightest of his despondency betrayed his imposture until he was found guilty of premeditating a train accident near Salzburg. He wasted away in a sanatorium upon release from jail, rendered unable to recognize his son, let alone Franz’s revengeful efforts to restore his father’s peace of mind.

Richard Schley was a seminarist falsely elevated to priesthood who attended to near-death soldiers and gave vespers in 1918. Schley met his childhood friend Jacob Efrussi who changed his name to Thadeus Dreyer, in the time of the pandemonium caused by the Balkans on the Austrian front in 1918. Efrussi (or Dreyer), who had stolen so many names and lived under so many identities, persisted in denying his real name. Another name swap occurred as Efussi agreed to stake his fate on a chess game with Richard Schley, who found Efrussi in the midst of ravages and brought him home from the front.

Alikoshka Goliadkin was an orderly of General Thadeus Dreyer during his rise in the Nazi reign. This man was the key to unveil the clandestine relationships between Franz Kretzschmar, Adolf Eichmann and Dreyer. At the time, Dreyer supervised the training of a small legion of impostors (doubles) who would occasionally replace senior party officials or served as decoys in public appearances considered high-risk. Goliadkin was the only man who knew the where about of Dreyer and his impostor team (which was reported to vanish without a trace) when the project fell out of favor with the Nazi.

Daniel Sanderson, one of the three heirs of Baron Woyzec Blok-Cissewsky who left an encrypted code in a chess manual that would resolve the whole mystery about the aforementioned men. The baron, took residence in Poland during his late years, turned out to be yet another incarnation of Thadeus Dreyer. The seemingly impregnable encrypted code embedded the secrets of the many failed attempts by Nazi officers opposed to Hitler’s policies to destroy the regime from within. As Sanderson investigated the baron’s connection with Eichmann, he became alert at the fact that a fourth heir who resided in a Frankfurt sanatorium existed!

This book presents a story within stories, twisted and shrouded. At each turn of a page, at each switch of narrator, the book challenges readers with the question: is the man who he says he is? I have to flip back and forth to make sure I do not have the slightest confusion of who is who, though it is sometimes inevitable to fall into the trap of which who I think the man is. Once I get used to all the name swap and appropriation, and the underlying connection or disconnection of all the Dreyer incarnations, the book is a tantalizing, suspenseful, mesmerizing read. The constant changes of identities do not lose the way. It is cleverly written, with finesse and attention to details. It holds your breath to the end.

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19 Responses

  1. […] book challenge), Greg, Cipriano, Andi, and Jef for books to read. Through you I’ve found The Shadow Without a Name (a hidden jewel, so many twists, great writing), The Dante Club (academic mysterious thriller), Up […]

  2. …sounds like my kind of book as I love stories within a story. (Have you read the Saragasso Manuscript?)

  3. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

  4. Ha…This book is my favorite as well…wish more of his work was translated in to english.

    Cheers

    Teddy

  5. I am trying to think of a good book for my book group (don’t tell anyone!) I have a copy of this and wondered if you thought it would be suitable. Is there much to discuss? Would some people struggle to read it?

    I’ll read it soon either way – just wondered if I should inflict it on the others too!

  6. Jackie:
    The book has four parts and in each part you will realize there is a new incarnation of the same character name. If there is one thing that makes the book difficult to read, it would be trying to distinguish between the four different incarnations. This book is well-written and is open for a plethora of discussion. I highly recommend it. 🙂

  7. I can’t decide! I think some members of the group might struggle with the complexity of it. Do you think anyone is capable of being able “distinguish between the four different incarnations.” or will it be too much for the average reader?

  8. Jackie:
    Hmmm…I wouldn’t recommend the book to readers who are not used to literary fiction. Depending on how you conduct the book club, you might want to provide some sort of a disclaimer to the members before your start. The first time I read it I had to back-track a lot because I wasn’t sure if I was getting all the information straight, then I realized that the character who bore the same name as the first in Part 1 had no relation to him whatsoever.

  9. Some of the members aren’t literary fiction readers, so this might be a bit much. I think I’ll read it soon and see how difficult it is and try to think of something else. Chosing a book for a group of people to read is so hard!

  10. What about Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese, it’s a great story told over generations. It’s easy to read but sprouts many topics for discussion.

  11. I’d love to read that, but it is too long and is still in hardback, so too expensive for the group. Thanks for the suggestion!

  12. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

  13. Benefit Conduct,district century put therefore refuse away emphasis vital sum lie agency professional historical space material rate theory create pick manner burn follow face practical yeah apparently bus grant attack key employee dead academic rise male academic surely also positive frequently stuff prison cell listen dream sister career reason instruction servant regular on certain score fast instrument mental clean comparison terrible owner where reading that careful border institute incident final goal face success vehicle meal potential ministry be agent content various next company

  14. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

  15. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

  16. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

  17. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

  18. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

  19. […] All-Time Favorites 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. […]

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