Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.
When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review, courtesy of BlueInk Review:
by Allan Alexander
Publisher: Outskirts Press
The KGB agents are vicious, and they are closing in… His odds of escaping are bleak… Will he prevail although everything is muddled in a treacherous love triangle? Whom can he trust? The inevitable checkmate could bring him freedom … or death. Checkmate Run is an adrenaline rush of a story about a precocious young man’s deadly struggle to survive the brutal Soviet regime. Alex Loevsky is a medical student and an inspiringly rebellious poet. He becomes enmeshed in a breakneck battle against the rampant cruelty of the totalitarian state, where just the desire to think freely is nearly a crime on par with treason, and being born Jewish is more than a mere hindrance.
Alex aspires to be a physician. Despite his top academic standing, he has to overcome unspoken rule that aim to restrict the number of Jews entering medical school. Before sitting his admission exams, he is unable to locate his name on the list of alphabetically grouped applicants. He soon discovers that a special group has been created and that everyone in it, including him, has Jewish-sounding surnames. Finding this odd, he goes to his friend and confidante–his aunt Anna. They formulate a daring scheme to shift his name to the regular group.
Alex gets the highest score in the admission exams, but to his chagrin, he discovers that everyone in the special group has been flunked. Shortly thereafter, with the help of his literary mentor, Andrey Simyavsky, Alex’s poetry gains recognition, and New Word, a coveted avant-garde literary magazine, starts to publish his work regularly. All of a sudden, Andrey is arrested, convicted in a closed trial, and sentenced to seven years of hard labor after his banned novel, Lyubimov, was covertly published abroad. While searching for the secret transcripts of the trial, the KGB murders Andrey’s wife.
Alex, who is suspected of hiding the transcripts, is hounded, severely beaten, and left to die. He manages to escape and runs into Lara, a fellow medical student, who saves his life. Aunt Anna enlists the help of her friend, who now holds the rank of general in the Interior Ministry Force. They devise a plan to shield Alex from the KGB by keeping him in solitary confinement inside the Internal Ministry prison. Six months later, the general arranges for Alex’s release, but with one caveat–Alex is forever barred from creative writing. While incarcerated, Alex is expelled from medical school. The general applies pressure on the corrupt dean, and, with Lara’s help, Alex is reinstated.
A few years pass, Alex witnesses the murder of a dissident who seeks to expose to the Western world the torturous reality of life in the Soviet Union. The murder leads Alex to the core of the dissident’s underground movement. His life becomes a death-dealing game of chess; he needs to remain one step ahead of his ruthless opponent–the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate–and must win the game in order to survive. Unexpectedly, the KGB attempts to recruit Alex as an informant. Being entrapped, he experiences betrayal at the hands of the woman with whom he has had a long and passionate love affair. As Alex and Lara grow closer, their friendship turns into love. They get married, and a year later, they have a son. Concern for their son’s future fires up their desire to escape the country that turned on them. Having nothing to lose, Alex and Lara navigate through the imminent danger of terrifying twists and turns in their bid to cross the Iron Curtain.
Allan Alexander’s compelling autobiographical novel follows an increasingly disillusioned and rebellious young man through a decade in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union.
Alex Loevsky is an aspiring doctor, but his heart belongs to poetry. With the encouragement of his intellectual Aunt Anna, Alex begins contributing to the avant-garde journal New Word and mingling in literary circles. But his and his friends’ nonconformist work angers the authorities. In order to continue his studies, Alex must renounce his literary career.
This is only the beginning of the injustices Alex experiences and witnesses. His Jewish heritage, in particular, singles him out for abuse. But institutional anti-Semitism also brings Alex close to Lara Katz, a fellow medical student. Still emotionally tied to a former lover, however, he initially thinks of Lara as only a friend.
Although he has officially given up poetry, Alex continues to mingle in contrarian circles. He helps smuggle the transcript of a dissident writer’s show trial out of the country and carries on a dead man’s crusade to expose the abuse of political prisoners in mental hospitals. Through these adventures, he grows closer to Lara and begins to reconsider his feelings for her. Eventually, Alex and Lara decide to attempt their most dangerous mission: escaping the Soviet Union for a better life.
Checkmate Run occupies a rather uneasy place between the literary fiction and thriller genres. The novel covers so many incidents and experiences that it occasionally feels unfocused. A slightly slower pace and more descriptive passages would allow readers of literary fiction to feel more involved with the characters. On the other hand, although frequently gripping, the narrative lacks the kind of slick, streamlined plot that would appeal to genre thriller readers.
Nonetheless, Alexander’s work offers a fascinating insider’s portrait of Soviet life post-Stalin but pre-glasnost. It’s probably best appreciated by readers especially interested in that time and place, rather than casual fiction readers. That core audience should find Checkmate Run quite rewarding.
[ reviewed by BlueInk Review ]
Here’s what other reviewers are saying:
I grew up during the early “duck and cover” days of the Cold War. There was plenty of red scare propaganda back then, but (obviously), we couldn’t read about someone’s first hand experience in the “USSR,” as it was known at that time. Dr Allan Alexander’s book changed all that for me – what an incredible story…of love, of family, of survival, and of perseverance!
Checkmate Run is well written and the prose is tight. Dr Alexander’s precise word choices for describing people and situations make this book a delight for the reader. The author doesn’t waste your time with any unnecessary drivel; everything is well thought out, fast paced and deeply absorbing. I couldn’t put this book down!
I have recommended this book to many people since reading it. I would especially recommend it to those that grew up in the shadows of the Cold War on this side of the Iron Curtain. If this book doesn’t fill you with gratitude for the freedoms we so often take for granted, then perhaps you missed the Preface and didn’t realize that the author LIVED this story!
If I had to identify one thing that I wanted to find in the book, it would be a complete copy of the poem, “The Salvaged Hope.” Since there are multiple references to it, I found myself wanting to read it. Since Dr Allan Alexander wasn’t able to carry any copies of the magazine bearing the publication of his poems out of his motherland, it is possible they are forever lost to us. This is one of the sad tragedies of censorship – history is forever incomplete.
– Amazon Reviewer Judith
Checkmate Run by Allan Alexander is an intriguing story of Soviet Russia during the Cold War. It is a story about one man’s struggle against powers which tried to quash personal expression and ideas that were different than the status quo. The events take place between 1965-1975 as a young man named Alex learns the harsh and life threatening reality that he faces every day.
The story opens with a prisoner getting ready for trial. A trial that is heavily swung in the government’s favor. He is found guilty and sentenced for hard labor. We then meet Alex, a young man who has recently published a poem in a national magazine. A poem which openly criticizes the government. Alex is of Jewish descent and he must use trickery and subversion in order to achieve his goal of becoming a doctor as the government is discriminatory toward the Jewish citizens. With the help of his aunt and her powerful friends, he is able to get into medical school. When a friend and fellow author, Andrey Simyavsky, has been arrested for treason, a series of events occur that will change Alex’s life forever. He vows to fight in any way he can. He soon becomes on the radar of the KGB, the Russian spy and state-security branch, and he must fight quietly and undermine the growing reaches of the government. Will the KGB finally be able to stop Alex? Will he be able to escape?
I enjoyed this book very much. It’s hard to give a description of the book without giving too much away. Every event in the book is a piece of the puzzle, a calculated chess move in which Alex tries to outsmart the KGB and they are trying to catch Alex in “illegal” activities. I always knew about the harshness of life behind the Iron Curtain but to read about it in such detail, it’s heartbreaking. I have a deeper appreciation for the freedoms we have here in the US. We may not like what people say or do, but we can do the simple things like openly criticize the government without fear of losing our freedom or our lives. I was also intrigued of how the book Doctor Zhivago played at role in the story. I must confess I’ve never read the book or seen the movie but now I will. The last few chapters move at a furious pace as the danger greatly increases for Alex. I highly recommendCheckmate Run.
– Reviewer Jennifer Lara of Observations From a Simple Life
Thanks for reading! Keep up with the latest in the world of indie and self-published books by watching this space every Saturday!
Self Publishing Advisor