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Publisher's Summary

A PopSugar Best Book of the Year!

Listeners of Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz and watchers of The Queen’s Gambit won’t want to miss this amazing debut set during World War II. A young Polish resistance worker, imprisoned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner, plays chess in exchange for her life, and in doing so fights to bring the man who destroyed her family to justice.

Maria Florkowska is many things: daughter, avid chess player, and, as a member of the Polish underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, a young woman brave beyond her years. Captured by the Gestapo, she is imprisoned in Auschwitz, but while her family is sent to their deaths, she is spared. Realizing her ability to play chess, the sadistic camp deputy, Karl Fritzsch, decides to use her as a chess opponent to entertain the camp guards. However, once he tires of exploiting her skills, he has every intention of killing her.

Befriended by a Catholic priest, Maria attempts to overcome her grief, vows to avenge the murder of her family, and plays for her life. For four grueling years, her strategy is simple: Live. Fight. Survive. By cleverly provoking Fritzsch’s volatile nature in front of his superiors, Maria intends to orchestrate his downfall. Only then will she have a chance to evade the fate awaiting her and see him punished for his wickedness.

As she carries out her plan and the war nears its end, she challenges her former nemesis to one final game, certain to end in life or death, in failure or justice. If Maria can bear to face Fritzsch — and her past — one last time. 

©2021 Gabriella Saab (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

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What listeners say about The Last Checkmate

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Desperate Girl, Powerful Story

I've been interested in reading this book since hearing about it, and especially after racing through the Queen's Gambit last year. I wasn't sure how Saab would pull it off, but she did, and then she made me cry in her author's note (and I don't cry!). I just didn't realize something important about one of the characters, and it makes the book even that much more meaningful. So that is to say, Saab did her homework and more. But even more important, she told an excellent story.

Here's the premise, that bit I can tell you without spoiling things, because Saab is a master at unfolding the story out of order, so that we readers are pawns as we are drawn further and further into the hardship of Maria's life. Maria is a young political prisoner in Auschwitz, relatively early in WWII. She's lost her family and has enormous guilt about it--though we know that she couldn't have done a thing about it, for the Nazi killing machine was merciless. So she's a prisoner in all the ways we've come to know, but she survived because of something we could never imagine. She survived by playing chess, by using her wits. And the book starts with her final face off with the horrible man who tortured her and so many.

When a book opens like this, the reader has to wonder, where can we go? Also, how does one write about chess in an exciting way?

Never fear, Saab has it down. I loved "watching" the chess play as well as seeing into the mind of a girl obsessed with the game, obsessed and playing it out in the most deadly of arenas.
I also was enthralled as Maria made her way to the edge of madness and human endurance, just as I was nervous as she made friends and enemies (who could she trust, would they be found out and punished?). Even her plans put me on edge as I sometimes wanted to yell at her: "Don't do that!"

At first, the book had so much happening to Maria and her family that I had to take it in snippets, but then I got to a point I simply couldn't put it down. Bottom line is that Maria is a worthy heroine, the premise of THE LAST CHECKMATE is very well imagined and executed. As an example, I loved all the different chess sets, could picture her fingering them, thinking about them. Also, I loved finding out about some real persons who were important in the book--not just the bad people, but the good, the oh so, almost saintly good. Sometimes these days, I think we wonder if people are still good, as we watch all the yelling going on. But then we encounter our own neighbors, our own community, and we see what we do for each other. I think that is one of my favorite things about this book, that even with all the horror of the war, my soul is refreshed with the reminders that there were those who cared more for their fellow human beings than even for themselves. Maria's story gave me hope.

Also the audio is wonderful, of course it is wonderful. Excellent narrator.

26 people found this helpful

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Awesome book

I felt like I was there. It wasn’t as gruesome as it could have been which is good for readers like me. I felt like I was watching as they went along.

14 people found this helpful

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what a travesty

greatly disappointed. author took far too many liberties and vastly distorted historical facts that made the overall content agregious

12 people found this helpful

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inside Auschwitz

great author's notes, at the end... don't read it until you've read book. very interesting liberties taken to make the story but keeping a lot of historical facts.

10 people found this helpful

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should be required reading for high school

great narration. a bit of jumping around years without being clear where in the storyline we are. highly recommend as a nearly non fiction account of the atrocities of the Nazi labor/death camps. well done!

9 people found this helpful

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Outstanding

Fascinating story. Although fictional, some stories and scenes are based on true events. I hope a movie is made.

8 people found this helpful

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Great story

Fantastic detailed story of the struggles of surviving the holocaust. Richly developed characters and clear moral victories. Narrator did a great job.

6 people found this helpful

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Well written and well read

Very well written novel of a horrid time. I learned a lot. Very well read also. I listened whenever I could and had a hard time turning it off. Definitely recommend it.

1 person found this helpful

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Captivating

I love this been. It stole my attention from the very start. I had a difficult time “putting it down.” A great book; great story; great narrator.

1 person found this helpful

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wow

Amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. the author clarifies liberties taken, she also quotes sources that are accurate.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-11-22

Heartbreaking and insightful.

The horror of how evil humans can become, while capturing the essence of family of both blood and circumstances and how they can carry you through the darkest of periods. Beautifully narrated.