With her debut novel “The Last Checkmate” now on sale, Gabriella Saab is the most recent major author related to the Golden Triangle. The Mississippi State graduate’s book was published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, last Tuesday.
The heroine of “The Last Checkmate” is Maria Florkowska, a teenage girl who is caught, with her family, helping the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw during World War II. She was sent to Auschwitz in its early days, when prisoners were almost exclusively men, and women, children and those deemed unfit for work were killed on arrival.
In the Saab story, a Nazi officer distracts Maria from the execution line when he notices a chess piece in Maria’s hand, one of his last possessions, and decides to use it for his entertainment staff. Chess also helps Maria find rare moments of comfort when she befriends other prisoners who help her survive.
While the main character of “The Last Checkmate” is fictional, several others are based on real individuals, including Karl Fritzsch, the Nazi officer who served as deputy commander of Auschwitz, and Father Maksymilian Kolbe, priest and prisoner. Politics.
Saab had the opportunity to travel to Poland to conduct research in Warsaw and Auschwitz during the development of his book, calling it “an absolutely unforgettable experience”.
Auschwitz has been preserved to honor the more than 1.1 million people who lost their lives there.
Saab counts popular historical fiction writers Kate Quinn and Ariel Lawhon among its influences. She tells The Dispatch that she intends to continue writing historical fiction featuring strong women, and her next novel is in the works.
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
You graduated from the State of Mississippi in 2016 as a Marketing Specialization. Were you already thinking about becoming a writer then – or maybe even this story?
This story was not yet in my head, but I absolutely thought about becoming a writer! I majored in marketing because I knew these skills would come in handy no matter what my career, but I wanted to be a writer since I was little.
Are you a chess player yourself?
I’m much better now! Before writing this book, I knew how to play, but I learned so much more, although I am nowhere near as good as my main character!
The character of Father Maksymilian Kolbe is based on the true story of a Catholic saint of the same name. How did you find out about its story for the first time?
He has always been one of my favorite saints, so I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know his story. The history of WWII has always fascinated me, so this is one of the reasons why the experiences of St. Kolbe marked me so much. I am honored to have been able to say more about him in my book.
Do you have a family or personal connection to WWII?
Both men and women in my family served in the military, and a cousin, who died before I was born, was an American prisoner of war in a camp. I wish I could tell them more about their experiences. I can’t imagine what kind of stories they would have shared.
What do you want readers to take away from your book?
Although it takes place in one of the darkest times and places in our collective history, I want “The Last Checkmate” to be a story that shows how courage, resilience and love can emerge. and triumph over such evil. While this is a story of loss and struggle, it is ultimately a story of strength, hope and survival, and I hope it encourages readers to learn more about the true story that inspired this work.
Emily Liner is the owner of Friendly City Books, an independent bookstore and press in Columbus.