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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Shadow without a Name

Ignacio Padilla

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Shadow without a Name

Title: Shadow without a Name
Author: Ignacio Padilla
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 192 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Shadow without a Name - US
Shadow without a Name - UK
Shadow without a Name - Canada
Amphitryon - France
  • Spanish title: Amphitryon
  • Translated by Peter Bush and Anne McLean

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Our Assessment:

A- : fun and well-written novel of assumed identities

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. A 27/4/2003 Barry Unsworth
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2003 Chad W. Post
San Francisco Chronicle . 4/5/2003 Alan Cheuse

  Review Consensus:


  From the Reviews:
  • "The novel has the grip and pace of a detective story, managing to be at once somber and playful and at times wonderfully sinister, with something of the looming grotesqueness of German Expressionist cinema in the 1920's. The most innocuously phrased sentence becomes charged with disturbing ambiguities. (...) There is a power of invention and an imaginative force here that mark Padilla as a writer of outstanding gifts." - Barry Unsworth, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Aptly translated by Peter Bush and Anne McLean, this is an ambitious book executed with such style and ease to establish Padilla as a writer to watch for years to come." - Chad W. Post, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(R)elentlessly deceptive, if not altogether confusing (...) [A] book, which, in its complexity and multiplicity of resonances about past, present and future, suggests that modern Mexican literature, having produced an intellectual thriller of such high quality as this, has advanced to a new level of maturity." - Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Shadow without a Name is told in four parts (plus a coda), in each a different narrator looking at the past -- and, specifically, a shadowy figure from it. It begins very promisingly, with a man who starts his account: "My father used to say his name was Viktor Kretzschmar." As the son learns, it is a name his father only assumed during World War I, when he was a young recruit on his way to the eastern front. In fact, his name was Thadeus Dreyer.
       This Dreyer met the 'real' Viktor Kretzschmar on a train; Kretzschmar was set to assume a position in Salzburg as a railway pointsman, as he was medically unfit to fight. They played a game of chess with the highest stakes, and Dreyer won and switched places (names and lives) with Kretzschmar. He gained a life of security, while Kretzschmar went off to what was surely his doom.
       Except, of course, it wasn't -- and when, many years later, the man now known as Dreyer threatens to come back into his life the new Kretzschmar is led to take drastic measures. But the new Dreyer apparently leads something of a charmed life .....
       It's a good story, and it gets even better, as the next section shows there's even more to the figure known as Thadeus Dreyer (a rising Nazi figure, as World War II approaches). Padilla spins an ingenious structure of switched identities. As we hear:

     'I have been everyone and no one,' he said with the sorrow of repentance. 'I have stolen so many names and so many lives that even you couldn't count them.
       Dreyer's increasingly sinister Nazi activities add a nice dark touch to the story. Not surprisingly, he comes up with the idea for what he calls the Amphitryon Project, "a small legion of impostors who would occasionally replace senior party officials in public appearances considered high-risk". And after World War II there were, of course, some Nazi's who hid their identities and assumed new ones as they escaped abroad -- notably Adolf Eichmann .....
       For the most part Padilla presents this complex, and occasionally convoluted story, very well, though the novel can't quite sustain the elegant perfection of the first section. Padilla lets the story unfold very nicely, and it's a fun game he plays here -- though the work involved, in keeping track and repeatedly reassembling an ever-shifting puzzle, might annoy some readers.

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Shadow without a Name: Reviews: Other books by Ignacio Padilla under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Ignacio Padilla Suárez was born in 1968.

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© 2006-2009 the complete review

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