Block 11

Piero Degli Antoni, Author
Piero degli Antoni, trans. from the Italian by Erin Waggener. St. Martin's, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-00102-3
Reviewed on: 09/03/2012
Release date: 10/16/2012
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.)
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