Friday, April 6, 2012
Chess Story - Under the Microscope
Chess Story, by Stefan Zweig, is an odd little book. It's a book about chess, but as much as it's about chess it's also about obsession, and about how the obsessions that save us can also be the obsessions that destroy us.
This is a classic narrator as witness story, where the narrator is a character in the story, but not central to it: he is there to tell the events of others. In this case, it's an ocean trip on a liner, in which the narrator finds out that he's traveling with the chess world champion. One of the other passengers decides to challenge the champion and predictably loses. Unalbe to accept this, however, the passenger challenges the champion again, and soon (again) finds himself in a poor position. This time, however, another passenger intervenes and offers advice. His advice is so good that the others force him to take over the game -- a game he wins.
Who is the stranger? How is it that he can beat the world champion? And can he do it again?
The writing here is strong, both lucid and precise, and yet around the edges of this clarity lie madness, lie the telling details of obsession, and what obsession can mean in the lives and minds of individuals.
This book seemed particularly interesting to me right now because my five-year-old is currently obsessed with chess (and, um, can probably beat me. Which is likely a sign of both his talent and my un-talent). Hopefully his ending is a little happier...