From an award-winning author comes an audacious, high-concept noir set in Auschwitz that straddles past and present
New York, the present: An old woman and her husband sit down for a breakfast of black bread and coffee at a table set for ten. Eight chairs remain empty.
Auschwitz, Spring 1944: Following a successful escape from the camp, a group of ten prisoners are rounded up for execution. But at the last minute, counter-orders are given. Since the camp needs every inmate for labor, only one prisoner will be sacrificed. And it is the job of the other nine prisoners, locked up in an empty building in Block 11 with nothing but a piece of paper and pencil, to decide by dawn who will die. Otherwise they will all go to the gallows.
Thus begins a night of storytelling with tales of horror, secrecy, and betrayal, but also of love and great humanity, as these ten prisoners debate who deserves to live and who deserves to die. The night is filled with violence, emotion, and shocking revelations. Degli Antoni wrestles with questions of guilt and forgiveness, selfishness and sacrifice, in this unforgettable novel set during the most trying of times.
Antoni's first work to appear in English is a clich -ridden thriller set inside Auschwitz. After three prisoners escape, 10 others are rounded up for execution, but the commandant instead locks them in a washhouse, giving them the night to choose one among them to be killed. If they do as he says, the nine others will be spared. The assembled group reads like the passenger manifest of a disaster film, adding campy notes that grate on the grim premise: there's a communist, a rabbi, a financier who had dealings with the Nazis, a lovesick woman, a German officer imprisoned for desertion, and a gay man whose stereotypical portrayal further erodes his dignity. Antoni has this character lasciviously provoking the others, rhapsodizing about a German soldier's "bulging pectorals," and sashaying across the room in a way that is described as transforming his death camp uniform "into a sort of evening gown" one of the most profoundly misguided metaphors in recent fiction. During their long night, there will be accusations, pleas, and secrets revealed. The machinations in the washhouse are contrasted with the commandant's efforts to teach his son to play chess, with the pieces named after the prisoners, and their movements paralleling the human drama. The aim: clearly high-concept; the execution: a shamble.