Shadow Without a Name

Overview

In 1943, General Thadeus Dreyer, a WWI hero who trains doubles for Nazi leaders, disappears. In 1960, Adolf Eichmann, a master chess player, is arrested in Buenos Aires, extradited to Israel, and hanged. Years later, a dying Polish count casts doubt on Eichmann's identity, leaving behind a manuscript with clues that tie the three men together. A gripping novel of imposture and identity, Shadow Without a Name is a harrowing parable of our century of chaos, where individual will is swamped by the cult of ...

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Overview

In 1943, General Thadeus Dreyer, a WWI hero who trains doubles for Nazi leaders, disappears. In 1960, Adolf Eichmann, a master chess player, is arrested in Buenos Aires, extradited to Israel, and hanged. Years later, a dying Polish count casts doubt on Eichmann's identity, leaving behind a manuscript with clues that tie the three men together. A gripping novel of imposture and identity, Shadow Without a Name is a harrowing parable of our century of chaos, where individual will is swamped by the cult of personality and destinies hang on a game of chess.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Events are unfolded through the medium of four first-person narrators, voices of loss and fractured personality. They are not distinguished by variety of style or mode of utterance, and so they seem almost like a chorus, a collective expression of the quest for meaning and identity in a bleak and chaotic, morally trackless world. The way this collective voice is managed is one of the several triumphs of Shadow Without a Name, the first of Ignacio Padilla's novels to appear in English. Excellently translated, it ranges through the devices of rhetoric -- speculative, ironic, elegiac -- with a residue of sorrow that has nothing to do with rhetoric at all. — Barry Unsworth
The Washington Post
Gracefully and economically written, it is a meditation on the nature of identity and, not incidentally, on the myriad unsuspected tragedies inflicted on people by the chaos of war. — Michael Kernan
Publishers Weekly
Once immersed in this sophisticated novel by a young Mexican writer, readers may feel they have been conducted by a sardonic host into a labyrinth and left to find their way out. Characters based on real people assume and abandon identities over the course of the two world wars and beyond, and the sole connecting element, as in many tales of intrigue, is the game of chess, over whose board identities are exchanged. Gen. Thadeus Dreyer, architect of the Nazis' Amphitryon Project, is one of Padilla's real-life characters; the most significant is a figure glimpsed only indirectly, but central to the novel-Adolf Eichmann. This engineer of the Final Solution escaped to Argentina after the war and was finally discovered and removed to Israel, where he was tried and executed. The story suggests the possibility that a number of men were trained to be stand-ins for key Nazi party leaders at public events. What, the novel asks, if one of them had permanently replaced Eichmann? Was it truly Eichmann who sat on display before the world at his trial? Padilla handles the question with marvelous dexterity and invests it with great suspense, although the mechanism begins to creak at the climax. No reader who remembers the grinding factuality of the Eichmann trial will entertain any doubts, but the story adds another dimension to the mysteries of identity and the banality of evil. (Apr.) Forecast: Like Jorge Volpi, author of In Search of Klingsor (Scribner, 2002), Padilla is a member of the "Crack" literary movement in Mexico, which for some years has enjoyed a vogue abroad. Padilla may pick up more respectful reviews than sales in the U.S., but the novel has a chance at cult success. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This novel begins around the outset of World War I and ends some time after the fall of communism. Yet it's not really a historical work but a tale of swapped identities and multiple viewpoints explored over different eras. Sound confusing? Indeed, it can be, depending on your tolerance for mystery, coincidence, intrigue, misleading cues, and, at times, cloak-and-dagger melodrama. The story begins with two men headed for the Austro-Hungarian eastern front who agree to exchange identities after one wins a game of chess; the winner will become a railroad signal man and sit out the war in relative peace. As the plot progresses (though that's hardly the right word), a succession of exchanged identities eventually builds to a cast of characters that include a Bogart look-alike and none other than Adolf Eichmann-or is it his double? Mexican writer Padillo, winner of Spain's Premio Primavero Award in 2002 and here making his English-language debut, offers writing that is atmospheric, tricky, hallucinatory, and engaging. Libraries whose patrons appreciate first-rate, challenging writing will definitely want to add this estimable work to their shelves.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Impersonation, mistaken identity, and subterfuge are the elements juggled with hellish precision in this dizzyingly intricate historical, the first of its prizewinning Mexican author's to appear in English translation. The byzantine structure defies brief summary, but suffice it to say that four narrators' overlapping stories cohere to chronicle a history of deceptions that reaches back to WWI and forward to the postwar pursuit and capture of fugitive Nazis. First, German soldier-engineer Franz Kretzschmar describes the chess game, played onboard a train approaching the eastern front in 1918, which enabled Austrian Thadeus Dreyer to "win" the identity of railwayman Viktor Kretzschmar, elude military service, and survive, only to commit a horrendous crime when his hidden past threatened to overtake him. Seminarian Richard Schley confesses his assumption of the identity of (the false) Dreyer, whom Schley had recognized as his (Jewish) childhood friend. Still with us? Alikoshka Goliadkin (his surname borrowed from Dostoevsky's labyrinthine novella The Double) relates his later wartime experiences as "Dreyer's" subordinate, particularly regarding the "Amphitryon Project," Dreyer's scheme to train ordinary soldiers to "stand in" for prominent Nazi officers, thus shielding the latter from assassination attempts. Finally, "ghost writer" (well, why not?) Daniel Sanderson, a trained cryptographer, connects the murder of Polish Baron Blok-Cussewsky (who, unsurprisingly, is other than he seems) with the fate of (the false) Kretzschmar père, and raises the strong possibility that it was not "the real" Adolf Eichmann who was extradited, tried, and convicted, and executed in Jerusalem. It's alldevilishly hard to follow, but increasingly engrossing-and the payoff is a wonder to behold. Extraordinarily clever, and quite moving. A brilliant US debut.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781417707225
  • Publisher: San Val
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Format: Library Binding

Meet the Author

Ignacio Padilla is the author of several award-winning novels and short story collections, and is currently the cultural attache at the Mexican Embassy in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Franz T. Kretzschniar
Buenos Aires, 1957

My father used to say his name was Viktor Kretzschmar. He was a pointsman on the Munich-Salzburg line and not the type to decide, on the spur of the moment, to commit a crime. His apparent rashness in adversity concealed an extremely calculating mind, an ability to wait years for the right circumstances to hit a long-cherished target. So, while apparently taciturn, he was privately given to unforeseeable outbursts of rage, which made him a time bomb on a short fuse. These were not spontaneous impulses, but the product of that endless soliloquy he pursued with his defeated self, as one who, I'm sure, could have drilled a tunnel through basalt rock driven by the hope of one day recovering the light which was snatched from him in his youth. I once saw him hide for more than ten hours awaiting the reappearance of a famished hare which had dodged his first shots of the day. It was night-time before the animal finally surrendered to its executioner, finished off with a flurry of kicks which soon reduced it to an inedible lump of blood and snow.

Years later, while my father halfheartedly denied the railway tribunal's accusations, I asked my mother if she remembered that story of the hare, but she could not or would not answer me. Since the accident she'd locked herself into an impenetrable silence in solidarity, I thought at first, with the family's disgrace. Later, however, when she heard the judge's verdict, my mother sighed deeply, dropped her head and let out a wail of relief, freed at last of a burden that had poisoned every second of her existence. My words of consolation, offered from the depth of my own confusion, barely calmed her. Then, as if making an indirect reply to my question about the hare, she pointed at my father and muttered, 'That man, my son, is called Thadeus Dreyer, and he despises trains from the bottom of his heart.'

At first I thought my mother was delirious, referring to someone else — as if a perverse shadow had suddenly appeared behind Viktor Kretzschmar, the cause of all his misfortunes, and especially of the disaster that was likely to keep him in prison for the rest of his days. But my mother's gaze was unequivocally fixed on her husband's anxious face. She had decided to reveal to me the true nature of the actions and torments of pointsman Viktor Kretzschmar.

I'd known since I was a child that my father's real name wasn't Viktor Kretzschmar and it hadn't in the least sullied my blind admiration for him. For me, it had always been a closely guarded family secret, permeating my existence and giving rise to a boyish conspiratorial pride. On the other hand, this unexpected declaration of his hatred for trains had the frisson of a revelation which cut the cord between childhood and maturity. As far back as I could remember, I'd always thought my father had adored trains, ever since the day when, on board one, he'd staked his destiny on a game of chess and won. That someone could doubt the importance of a pointsman or the grandeur of those imposing metal beasts plunged him into endless depression. His eternal devotion to everything to do with railways had taken up his entire life; now I think his existence was, in some way, dedicated to demonstrating that his peculiar way of procuring the pointsman's job was more than an anecdotal whim of fate. He'd believed the game of chess on board a train heading for the eastern front in the war of 1914 was the culmination of a plan hatched by a compassionate demiurge, sparing him from certain death.

For a long time I'd imagined that historic game played in a sumptuous smokers' compartment packed with officers and high-society ladies. The gloved hands, swaying crests, ivory pieces and aromatic pipe-smoke flooded my childish fancies for years, and my parents never bothered to disabuse me. After the accident, however, I heard from my mother that things had happened quite differently.

My father must have been younger than I thought, though not young enough to avoid the 1916 levy that shook the outer rims of an Austro-Hungarian Empire intent on reinforcing its eastern front. Somewhere I still have a photo of my grandfather — a peasant from Vorarlberg about whom I know next to nothing — in the village station bidding farewell to the last of his uniformed offspring. The old man is wearing a satisfied smile, inconceivable in someone surrendering his son to a war which would soon be a lost cause. The young recruit doesn't seem to share his father's enthusiasm; he's looking the other way, his smile forced, wanly embracing my grandfather as if about to faint in the middle of the station. It's almost as if he's waiting for a chance to run out of the photograph and vanish into the mountains, where the whistle blast from the train about to carry him before the cannon of the Entente won't reach him. I reckon he's barely twenty, no more, and his face betrays the fear of a young man discovering, perhaps too late, the value of his short life which was suddenly under threat. I imagine my grandfather had to order him to smile for the camera and perhaps felt it necessary to push him towards the train with the unrelenting energy of an old peasant whose greatest satisfaction in life, according to my mother, had been to sacrifice his two eldest sons to the fatherland. Whatever the truth of that, the fact is my father didn't find the nerve to head for the mountains, and was left cowering in an old, dilapidated compartment, completely unlike the carriage of my fantasies. There he must have sunk into a moribund lethargy, his cadaverous hand waving goodbye to his family through the broken window which brought in an ominous gust of wind and the locomotive's infernal smoke. My young father must have sat there some four hours before his opponent, the real Viktor Kretzschmar, entered the coach.

I find it difficult to understand why I always imagined Kretzschmar to be an impeccable Victorian gentleman, maybe a retired officer whose mere presence would have instilled in the recruit a mixture of panic and respect. Perhaps my father once described him like that in his desire to hide the pathetic reality of the scene and its tragic consequences. Or perhaps it was simply the unruly engine of my imagination. Years later my mother cut that image down to size. The man on the train, she confessed, sobbing, as we left the courtroom, was just one more young man from the provinces who had contrived to use a distant uncle's influence to avoid conscription and get a job as a pointsman in the Salzburg district.

Copyright © 2003 Ignacio Padilla

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Table of Contents

I Shadow Without A Name 1957 1
II From Shadow to Name 1948 47
III The Shadow of A Man 1960 89
IV From Name to Shadow 1989 133
Coda 1999 189
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