Shadow Without a Name

Written by Ignacio Padilla
Review by Colleen Quinn

Two men play chess on a train bound for the eastern front in 1914. The loser will serve as a soldier in a doomed regiment; the winner will assume a safe, uneventful job on the railway. So occurs the first of many exchanges of identity; this switch and the terrible events of World War I set in motion a plot that leads to the Amphitryon Project.
The Amphitryon Project was a Nazi scheme in which doubles would be trained to take the place of superior Nazi officials at high-risk public events. But did the doubles have secret motives of their own? Were the doubles really Jews, determined to infiltrate the Nazi party from within? In Shadow without a Name, nothing and no one is as it seems, and the chaos of Europe during both World Wars provides an impressive backdrop for Ignacio Padilla’s meditation on the meaning of identity.
It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of chess in this novel. Not only does every character play – their styles and skills are few of the essentials of their original personalities they can never change – but chess itself serves as a symbol for fascism. What other game is so specifically about intellectual dominance? The losers of Shadow’s chess games face crushing, lifelong consequences, yet they never question the winners’ right to enforce them.
The key to the puzzle is the losing chess player in the first game. He succeeds in his military service, endures a surprising metamorphosis, becomes a high-ranking Nazi, escapes the last days of the war, and end his days under yet another identity: a Polish count obsessed with chess. When he dies, he leaves behind a bizarre manifesto. On the surface, it’s a chess manual, but when decoded, it reveals that Project Amphitryon has one last deception in store.