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STALEMATE by Icchokas Meras



Pub Date: May 8th, 1980
Publisher: Lyle Stuart

Consciously repetitious, drumming, Meras' novel is set in the Vilna ghetto during the Holocaust. Abraham Lipman, the Jewish elder who has the most semi-official contact with Schoger, the sadistic German ghetto commandant, has made deals--furniture in exchange for people spared, for example; but Schoger's ultimate plan, to ship off all the ghetto children to the death-camp, requires a different barter. Schoger wants Abraham's 15-year-old son, Isaac, a Capablanca-level chess player, to play a match with him. If Isaac wins, the ghetto children will remain but Isaac himself will die. If the commandant wins, Isaac's own life will be spared but the children will be doomed. Before the whole town, the game takes place. Isaac's only hope--a stalemate--is echoed, to greater dramatic purpose than the excessively stagey chess game, by the resistance activities of Isaac's young friends, who kill knowing they'll be killed. Sometimes sentimentally ponderous, these action sequences nonetheless have an anesthetized rigor about them that makes for some strong pages. But Meras' clenched-teeth style is in the way most of the time, even here; and ultimately the obviousness of the whole setup cancels out the built-in grab of the Holocaust material.