There are those that consider writing novels about The Holocaust is wrong and those who think it is not wrong. Obviously, in the products themselves there will be degrees of good and bad, so even if you do not think it is wrong, you would agree that a bad novel about The Holocaust is an abomination. If you think all novels about Auschwitz are wrong then read no further.
This novel, The Death’s Head Chess Club by John Donoghue, wrings your heart out. Obviously, it is a work of imagination but well researched so that most of what he writes can be ascertained by reading, say Primo Levi. Mr Donoghue’s imagination has created a situation in the camps that could lead beyond to the events that take up the principle theme of the book – forgiveness.
You might say “why not simply read Primo Levi?” There is something in that idea, of course, but then there is also something about this book which gets to the heart of a different sort of survival. Primo Levi lived to be a witness, returned to Italy and wrote out his experiences just so – and I think everyone with a conscience should definitely read what he had to say, but…
The Death’s Head Chess Club is about a meeting between a German and an Israeli at an International Chess Championship. The opening draw pits them against each other, the Israeli has expressed virulent views about Germans, about all Germans, and the organisers are now pondering (or panicking) about whether the match will take place, will one of the contestants – both Masters in their own country – withdraw? Anyway, there is nothing to be done about the draw now it has been published.
From this match another meeting and another outcome. This is brilliant writing! John Donoghue has worked in the field of mental health and its corollary, mental illness, and has written many professional articles on the subject and in this book he challenges us to consider for ourselves the interior damage done by corrosive hatred and the beneficial nature of forgiveness.
It is not for us to judge what the victims of inhumane treatment, mass murder, torture or other trauma should do, but the importance of this message should not be lost on anyone. We often hang on to bitterness that we would be wiser to deal with and let go to the detriment of our well being.