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[106] Shadow Without a Name – Ignacio Padilla

shadow.jpgAs in the chess games which are at the heart of action here, characters in Shadow Without a Name move like pawns, often being overtaken by events and contingencies, and supplanted by other men as a part of the grand, overall game of life. This is a challenging read–the plot is complex, layered, and the narrative is made up of four overlapping accounts that span across a zigzag timeline. Despite constant changes of identity, incarnations of a same name, and twists and revelations throughout, the novel never loses its way, nor will the careful reader. The tight storyline maintains a tension, and the author’s ingenuity in manipulating characters by taking advantage of the historical fact that it was common in those times to steal someone else’s identity provides constant surprises.

The first speaker is Franz T. Kretzschmar. He tells the story of a pointsman, Viktor Kretzschmar, who is being charged with causing a terrible train crash. His motives for this crime open the door into the mystery fueling the plot of this book, for as his son discovers, Kretzschmar was actually born as Thadeus Dreyer but won the name—and safety—in a chess game on a Salzburg-Munich train that was to take him to the front, fighting for the German army in World War I. The loser became Thadeus Dreyer and faced almost certain death in battle.

Richard Schley, the second narrator, is a seminarian in 1918, when he chances to meet Thadeus Dryer, whom he once knew in Vienna as Jacob Efrussi. Giving up his false religious faith, he roams through the trenches of the front to look for his friend, who resolves not to return home. Schley plays a game of chess with his wounded pal that leads to another identity switch.

A third speaker, Alikoska Goliadkin, is an associate of Thadeus Dreyer during his rise to power in the Nazi era, connects Dreyer with Adolf Eichmann and with Kretzschmar’s son, who becomes a part of the Amphitryon Project, which creates look-alikes, or decoys, of powerful Nazi leaders in case of a rout. It turns out that this secretive project, headed by Dreyer, is one of the many attempts by Nazi officers opposed to Hitler’s policies to destroy the regime from within. In a twist straight out of a thriller, this Dreyer (who was Schley) isn’t the same person from the train, a fact that is somewhat irrelevant, as the name of Dreyer continues to re-incarnate through history, assuming a certain inevitable force along the way.

The fourth speaker, Daniel Sanderson, is named as one of the heirs of a Polish baron who has left behind encrypted manuscripts that will reveal the true identity of Adolf Eichmann, who has been recently arrested in Argentina and is key to the whole mystery.

Putting aside the intrigues of the plot, the most interesting aspect of this novel is its structural form. Padilla tells his story through four stand-alone yet interwoven sections, each narrated by a different character at a different time and place. These monologues are restricted by the character’s point of view, presenting the reader with all the clues to the puzzle but no omniscient narrator to put it all together. So only the reader can figure out that Kretzschmar’s son is trying to exact his revenge against a different Dreyer, and by paying attention to the seemingly extraneous dates and places where each section was written the reader can uncover the final clues to the novel’s game.

6 Responses

  1. It does sound challenging but I’m going to recommend this one for my foreign authors book group. It sounds like it would be a good book to discuss.

  2. I didn’t get it at first because I wasn’t giving my full attention to it. It’s very calculated, witty and tense book. I’ve named it a favorite as well!

  3. I have a feeling that this book scares people off. With 54 viewings of this post I don’t get too much noise off it. *This is a great read*. Challenge yourself. 🙂

  4. Iliana:
    Oh this one will sparkle so many questions and arguments I’m sure! You’ll enjoy reading it and discussing with other members of the book club. 🙂

    John:
    I was hopelessly confused at first too! I had doubt about the different incarnations of Thadeus Dreyer, trying to go back and re-read the first narrative and try to draw character chart. Then I realize the Thadeus Dreyer mentioned in the second narrative is not the same person in the first narrative. But you see, figuring this all out is half the fun. 🙂

  5. […] so tempted to name Russian novels again. But for variety and refresher sake, I’ll pick Shadow Without a Name by Ignacio Padilla, a challenging read–the plot is complex, layered, and the narrative is made up […]

  6. […] the list of my all-time favorite (and re-read) novels, Shadow without a Name is most underrated and overlooked. Consider I discovered the book by a fluke myself, I wasn’t […]

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