Antoni's first work to appear in English is a cliché-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. (Oct.)
When three prisoners escape from Auschwitz, 10 others are selected for execution. Sturmbannführer Karl Breitner makes a magnanimous gesture. Instead of ordering that the 10 inmates be immediately executed in reprisal for the successful escape, he has them marched to the secluded wash house, barricaded in, and given 24 hours to decide which one of them shall be shot. Then he returns to his rooms to play chess with his young son, Felix, while the prisoners debate who shall die. Their first choice succumbs to disease before his name can be given to the Kommandant. Their second choice, desperate to save himself from their vote, crashes through the wash-house window and is shot as he is trying to escape, rendering himself ineligible as the group's choice. They're replaced by an SS officer condemned for insubordination and the wife of one of the captives, who not only never forgave her husband for thwarting efforts to save their daughter, but also turned to the arms of a colleague who's also incarcerated. Meanwhile, Breitner's chess game goes on. To amuse his son, he gives each of the pieces on the game board the name of one of the prisoners. Then he shortens the time the prisoners have to reach a decision. The prisoners continue to argue on their own behalf, until Moishe Sirovich, inmate 76.723, realizes that they must act together to have any chance of survival. The diversion they plan saves some, buries others, relieves the Sturmbannführer of his post, and sends Felix to security in Argentina. Not by any means as emotionally draining as Sophie's Choice, but highly effective on its own terms.
“An amazing tale by a writer who plays the reader's emotions like a virtuoso. Poignant in places, nail-bitingly tense in others. This one resonates with spirit, blending unimaginable tragedy with glorious triumph. An electrifying read.” Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Amber Room, The Jefferson Key and The Columbus Affair
“Ten souls, confined as pieces in a demonic chess game, everything taken from them but their character, are forced to confront a Godless challenge. An intensely moving story told in a driving narrative, Block 11 is certain to remain with you long after the last page is turned.” Ron Balson, author of Once We Were Brothers
“...highly effective...” Kirkus Reviews
“Block 11 is an intense, morally complex psychological thriller.” Shelf Awareness