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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Death's Head Chess Club

The Death's Head Chess Club

A Novel

John Donoghue



A novel of the improbable friendship that arises between a Nazi officer and a Jewish chessplayer in Auschwitz

In 1962, Emil Clément comes face to face with Paul Meissner at a chess tournament in Holland. They haven’t seen one another in almost two decades. Clément, once known only as “the Watchmaker,” is a Jewish former inmate of Auschwitz, where he was forced to play against the Nazi guards. If he won, he could save a fellow prisoner’s life—but if he lost, he would lose his own. Meissner, a soft-spoken bishop, was also at Auschwitz. He was the SS officer who forced the Watchmaker to play, so that the guards might test their superiority against the rumored talents of the “unbeatable Jew.”

As Emil and Meissner begin to search for a modicum of peace, they reflect on their shared history, recalling a gripping tale of survival and, ultimately, of trust. A bold and richly layered novel of an unlikely bond, The Death’s Head Chess Club by John Donoghue is a suspenseful meditation on guilt and the nature of forgiveness.

Praise for The Death's Head Chess Club

“This story is superb.” —New York Journal of Books

“Engrossing…This is a story much like chess, with an opening move, a middle game, and an endgame, as it explores the themes of survival, guilt, friendship, and healing.” —The Jewish Book Council

“An ambitious debut novel that raises uneasy questions.” —Financial Times

“Perceptive, and written with feeling and integrity… The Death's Head Chess Club has much to recommend it.”The Herald (Scotland)

“This many-layered and labyrinthine tale, laced with irony and empathy, moves briskly from shock to shock. It is a masterfully crafted novel, each chapter named for a chess move. You don't need to know chess to be appalled, stunned, astonished by and delighted to be in the hands of such an accomplished writer.” —Sam Coale, The Providence Journal

“Filled with soul and emotion” —Alexis Helms, The Roanoke Times

Reviews from Goodreads

John Donoghue

John Donoghue has published numerous articles about the treatment of mental illness in a variety of medical journals. He lives in Liverpool and The Death's Head Chess Club is his first novel.

image of John Donoghue o
Andrew Donoghue

John Donoghue


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