Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig - Book Review #111

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Chess Story
by Stefan Zweig

On a cruise ship bound for Buenos Aires, a wealthy passenger challenges the world chess champion to a match. He accepts with a sneer. He will beat anyone, he says. But only if the stakes are high. Soon, the chess board is surrounded. At first, the challenger crumbles before the mind of the master. But then, a soft-spoken voice from the crowd begins to whisper nervous suggestions. There are perfect moves and brilliant predictions. The speaker has not played a game for more than twenty years, he says. He is wholly unknown. But somehow, he is also entirely formidable!
From goodreads.com

Chess Story, also known as Royal Game, is a very short – fifty to one hundred pages, depending on edition, novella. This was the last work of Stefan Zweig, published posthumously, after he and his wife committed double suicide in Brazil, exiled from Germany by Nazis.

Chess Story glued me to the chair until I finished it. This is a quite unique story and it manages to stay unique without leaning towards the bizarre angle – everything in this story is realistic, everything is tangible.

Chess Story is a novella about two people: the world chess champion – an extraordinary person in quite ordinary situation; and a lawyer – a very ordinary person who was forced into the extraordinary situation. This is the story about human limitations. This is the story about survival and what it takes. This is the story about dark secrets and painful mysteries from the past. And of course, this is the story about chess; about excitement, passion and vehemence that this game (or is it more than a game) evokes.

"And are we not guilty of offensive disparagement in calling chess a game? Is it not also a science and an art, hovering between those categories as Muhammad's coffin hovered between heaven and earth, a unique link between pairs of opposites: ancient yet eternally new; mechanical in structure, yet made effective only by the imagination; limited to a geometrically fixed space, yet with unlimited combinations; constantly developing, yet sterile; thought that leads nowhere; mathematics calculating nothing; art without works of art; architecture without substance - but nonetheless shown to be more durable in its entity and existence than all books and works of art; the only game that belongs to all nations and all eras, although no one knows what god brought it down to earth to vanquish boredom, sharpen the senses and stretch the mind."

The narration is overwhelmingly excellent – it will make you shiver.

I loved this story so much, that I recommend it to everyone. I believe that every person will be able to find something for himself in this short, but powerful novella.


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