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Reading Ignacio Padilla’s “Shadow Without A Name” is like walking through a labyrinth or a carnival’s hall of mirrors. The pathways and reflections seem real, but the images and identities are contrived and falsified. This is the Mexican author’s first novel translated into English. The core of the mystery is the Amphitryon Project of Nazi General Thadeus Dreyer, the purpose of which was to train doubles to pose as Nazi leaders for security reasons. Chess links all the impersonators and ultimately raises the question whether the Adolf Eichmann hung by the Israeli’s was the master chess player and author of the Final Solution or a double.

The author is not seriously questioning the identity of Eichmann, but is playing a literary game of chess imaginatively swapping pieces and trading pawns for queens. At times a scorecard is needed to keep track of who each character is because they assume different names throughout the novel. How Mr. Padilla decided on this plot is to me the great mystery. I have taken the story at face value- a game with gambits-and have not tried to ascribe to it a psychological theme about self and identity. It is more fun and suspenseful if left as an intriguing puzzle.

This is not to say that the author did not envision deeper meaning to the tale. It begins with a quote from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa who wrote under heteronyms:

“I feel I am no one, only a shadow
Of a terrifying face I cannot see
And like the icy dark I exist nowhere.”

Whether this work is an homage to Pessoa is unclear, although there are four narrators, not all of whose names and characters reflect who they are. Identity is at the heart of the Greek myth Amphitryon, who accidentally kills his father and who plays the cuckhold husband to his wife Alcmene, who gave birth to two sons, one of which, Heracles, was the son of Zeus. The latter has been cast in comedic plays from Plautus to Heinrich von Kleist. John Banville who translated the latter’s work, also used it as the base for his novel “The Infinities”. Von Kleist’s works were ironically popular with the Nazi’s as they were with nationalistic Germans during World War I. The interesting twist on this is that his descendents, Ewald von Kleist and his son Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist, were anti-Nazi. The latter was the last survivor of Operation Valkerie, the failed assination plot to kill Hitler. Whether the author knew this I don’t know, but it would not surprise me.

The novel is worth reading as it is refreshingly inventive.