cover image Stalemate


Icchokas Meras, , trans. from the Lithuanian by Jonas Zdanys. . Other Press, $13.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-59051-156-5

SS Commandant Adolf Schroger, overseeing the Vilna Jewish ghetto, challenges 17½-year-old Isaac Lipman to a chess match with tauntingly barbarous stakes: if Isaac wins, Schroger will kill him, but all of the children in the ghetto will live; if he loses, the children will die, except for Isaac. A stalemate is thus the only desirable outcome. Isaac is his father Abraham's last surviving son; the two show love, strength and composure in the face of fear. Isaac's 16-year-old love interest, Esther, is lovely and sweet, but carrying her own already tragic past. There are many other stories, sometimes extraneous, of fathers and mothers, the missing and the dead, close friends and siblings. Born in Lithuania in 1934, Meras was hidden by a rural family during WWII; his family was murdered by the SS. In 1972, Meras emigrated to Israel, and most of his many novels center on WWII. The plot of Stalemate , out of print for 20 years, may seem hokey, but it's precisely the sort of random, ham-fisted horror that the Nazis routinely came up with, and Isaac's quest to merge cleverness and humility in all aspects of his life, under extreme duress, is winning. (Nov. 8)