Q&A With Gabriella Saab

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Q&A With Gabriella Saab

I hope everyone is having a great start to August so far! Today’s Q&A is with the author of historical fiction Gabriella Saab. Gabriella is the author of The Last Checkmate & her recent release Daughters Of Victory. 

 I hope everyone is having a great start to August so far! Today’s Q&A is with the author of historical fiction Gabriella Saab. Gabriella is the author of The Last Checkmate & her recent release Daughters Of Victory. 


Q: Gabriella, would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I a little bit about The Last Checkmate & Daughters Of Victory? 

A: Hi readers! I would love to tell you more about my books!
The Last Checkmate takes place during World War II and follows a Polish girl named Maria who lives in Warsaw with her family during the Nazi occupation. She follows in her parents’ footsteps to join the underground resistance and aids a local community of religious sisters who smuggle Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, supply them with false identities as Catholics, and place them with non-Jewish families, where they will hopefully be safe until the war ends and they can reunite with surviving family members. (This is all true! The actual religious community is featured in the novel!) But when Maria is caught, she and her entire family are sent to Auschwitz, where the camp deputy, Fritzsch, discovers Maria is a highly skilled chess player. He orders her to provide entertainment for the camp guards by playing chess against them on the condition that he will execute her when he no longer finds this useful; Maria plays for her life and, while doing so, attempts to uncover her family’s fates.

Daughters of Victory follows a grandmother and granddaughter and takes place across two significant periods of Russian history: the Russian Revolution and the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union. In the first storyline, Svetlana is a former aristocrat who leaves her privileged upbringing to join the Socialist Revolutionary party alongside her radical uncle. After arrest for anti-imperialist activities and more than a decade in political prison, Svetlana is released at the height of the Russian Revolution in 1917, after the tsar is overthrown, when many political factions are vying for control of the government. She returns to Moscow to rejoin her party, fights to prevent the Bolsheviks from seizing power, seeks vengeance against a mysterious Bolshevik assassin who murdered her beloved uncle during Svetlana’s time in prison, and hopes to reunite with her young daughter.

Decades later, in 1941, eighteen-year-old Mila lives with her parents in Leningrad and is estranged from her grandmother, Svetlana, for reasons Mila has never been told but is desperate to understand. When war breaks out and a Nazi invasion of Leningrad is imminent, Mila’s mother sends her to a small village to live with Svetlana, hoping Mila will be safer in such a remote region. But when the Nazis occupy the village, Mila joins the Soviet resistance, despite her grandmother forbidding her involvement, and hopes to drive out the invaders and discover what exactly pushed her family apart. In her efforts, Mila unearths dangerous secrets and old enemies that force Svetlana to protect her family by confronting her long-buried past. But if the truth emerges, it will either heal the rifts as Mila hopes or destroy the family completely.

Q: What was the writing and research process like for The Last Checkmate & Daughters Of Victory? While I know the books are based off of actual events, are the characters in both books based off of real people? 

A: I do most of my research and planning before I write my novels, then fill in any gaps once the first draft is completed. Nonfiction books make up the bulk of my reading material, and I also look for firsthand accounts if they exist, historical documents, records. In some cases I’ve been able to watch or listen to interviews and testimonies, since my settings are fairly recent by historical standards. Researching so much upfront helps me to organize my thoughts and understand the history before I attempt to fashion all of it into a cohesive story. While doing this, I also develop my characters, the story arc, and all the other bits and pieces. By the time I start writing, I have stacks of research, character, and story notes and a full chapter-by-chapter outline. If possible, I take research trips, too, because it helps me so much to put myself in the actual setting. Much of the research for both these books was difficult and heavy, but I’m fortunate that World War II, in particular, has so many resources available. The Russian Revolution was a little more difficult to research, mostly because the topics I dealt with were more niche, but I found some great resources that really helped me understand the political struggles of the time.

Writing The Last Checkmate was such a moving experience; I came across so many real, incredible resistance members who were so inspiring, and I wish I could have included all their stories. Though Maria is fictional, many of the events and scenes are inspired by accounts and testimonies I came across in my research. There are a number of real people in her story, too, including the antagonist, Karl Fritzsch, Auschwitz’s camp deputy who becomes her captor. He was a sadist and absolutely horrendous, and after researching him and other SS men and women, it’s impossible to fathom how cruel humans can be. But the resistance men and women showed me how brave, compassionate, and resilient humans can be, too, and that message of hope is the one I want readers to ultimately take away from this novel.


While researching The Last Checkmate, I discovered a Soviet partisan named Zina Portnova who infiltrated a Nazi garrison to poison the soldiers. She served as inspiration for Mila in Daughters of Victory. Since I didn’t want to write another book that was strictly a World War II setting, I began researching the Russian Revolution to see if I could come up with a secondary storyline and, ideally, link my characters by blood, which led me to Svetlana. She was a fictional composite of two women: Vera Figner, a former aristocrat who left her privileged life to join the Russian Revolution, and Fanya Kaplan, another revolutionary woman whose story I won’t spoil for you! A fictional version of Fanya is featured as Svetlana’s best friend in the novel.

For Daughters of Victory, the politics were complex to research and the overall plot is so intricate because there are mystery/thriller elements to it as Svetlana hunts for Orlova, the mysterious female Bolshevik assassin, and as Mila attempts to uncover her family history. Plotting was brutal because if one thing was off, it threw everything off – I can’t explain why, but trust me, when you read it, you’ll understand! There’s mystery, betrayal, and a whole lot more. It was really hard but so rewarding when it all came together. Don’t let the politics of the revolution scare you off; I didn’t want to weigh the story down, rather to let the political climate serve as a backdrop for the reader to understand the struggles of the time and the choices these women had to make. My purpose for this story is ultimately to illustrate how our choices affect not only us but the people around us. This ripple effect is illustrated most prominently in Mila’s timeline, where choices Svetlana made during the revolution are still having impacts more than twenty years later. In a lot of ways, it’s a cautionary tale, yet also a tale of strong, brave, fiercely dedicated women living in extremely difficult times and hoping to achieve the best for their country in order to create a better world for those they hold most dear. You might not agree with the choices these women make, but if I’ve done my job, hopefully you’ll understand why they do what they do, and I think that’s part of the beauty of reading.


In both my books, you can read a lot more about the real people and events in the stories in my author’s note, so please don’t skip that part! And don’t read it until you’ve read the book – no spoilers!

Q: I love reading historical fiction! Out of all the genres to choose from what drew you into writing historical fiction? 

A: I have always been so fascinated with learning. With history, in particular, I always find myself eager to know about the regular people who lived during a certain time, or the people that the history books don’t mention. Historical fiction gives me the opportunity to give some of those people, especially women, the opportunity to have their stories heard. For example, Zina Portnova, who inspired Mila in Daughters of Victory, was a teenaged girl who poisoned Nazis. A teenage girl?! Who poisoned Nazis?! Why is she not mentioned in EVERY history book?! Brave young women like her deserve to be remembered, and writing historical fiction is my small contribution to that. Not only do I get to learn more about different times, places, and people previously unfamiliar to me, but I get to honor them with my work and share them with readers, too.

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to your work? The entertainment industry could use more original content again. 

A: Not yet but that would be amazing! I agree, I think there’s such a need for original content in film and tv, and what better place to find it than a book? Maybe I’m biased, but personally I feel like my books would make great film/TV. . . Call me, Hollywood!

Q: Where is your favorite spot or spots to research, plot, write and edit your work? 

A: I’m a desk girl! I like to be comfortable but to feel like I’m in a designated workspace as much as possible. Having the freedom to work from home is amazing, but it also means I’m in charge of putting myself in a work mindset. Nobody is there to tell me to do it, and I’m not in a standard office environment to put me in that headspace, either. With that said, I tend to be very self-motivated, so I can get work done anywhere—a coffee shop, a hotel room, on a plane, etc. But if I’m home, you’ll usually find me at my desk.

Q: If you are writing your next book now, can you reveal any details, or is it too early to spill the beans? 

A: It’s a little early, but I can say that I’m hard at work with a lot of exciting projects and ideas! I like to explore different eras and time periods, so I can say that all are 20th century right now but not all are war settings. And I promise you strong female main characters, because that will be a staple for all my novels. Follow me on social media, and I’ll share updates as soon as I’m permitted!