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Chess Story (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – December 9, 2005
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"Always [Zweig] remains essentially the same, revealing in all . . . mediums his subtlety of style, his profound psychological knowledge and his inherent humaneness." —Barthold Fles, The New Republic
"Zweig possesses a dogged psychological curiosity, a brutal frankness, a supreme impartiality . . . [a] concentration of talents." —Herbert Gorman, The New York Times Book Review
"His writing reveals his sympathy for fellow human beings." —Ruth Franklin, London Review of Books
About the Author
Peter Gay is Director of the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He wrote Schnitzler’s Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815–1914.
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Top Customer Reviews
Chess Story centres around two extraordinary chess players. One is the world champion, Mirko Czentovic, who travels across the world for tournaments. The other is the enigmatic Dr. B., who claims not to have seen a chessboard in more than twenty years. The two are opposites in terms of personality, background and in their paths bringing them to a chance meeting on an ocean liner en route from New York to Buenos Aires. The narrator, who exhibits traits of an aspiring psychologist "passionately interested in monomaniacs", finds his first subject in the twenty-one year old chess prodigy, who otherwise exhibits poor education, intellect, and crude social behaviour. To satisfy his curiosity he instigates a game of chess between Czentovic and a group of "amateur chess lovers". Dr. B. watching the game in passing, is suddenly drawn into it, advising the hapless amateurs so that they reach a draw. His manifest expertise at the game as well as his strange conduct intrigues the narrator as much as the reader.
Using language that is sparse yet precise in detail, the first-person observer, although commenting on the game, is more fascinated by his subjects' personality and psyche. The narrator's inquisitiveness, heightened by Dr. B.'s unusual behaviour, leads him to follow his subject as he hurriedly flees the game room. Out on deck, Dr. B. eventually shares his personal story and recounts the recent harrowing events that forced him abruptly into exile from his native Austria. The narrator becomes at the same time listener and astute analyst. Dr.Read more ›
At the outset, considering Czentovic's isolated and emotionally deprived childhood, I was prepared to allow him his arrogance and conceit. Acknowledged, he was a master at chess and his boorish behavior could be excused. When Dr. B becomes peripherally involved in the chess match and exhibits a mastery of moves, it becomes clear that this man has somehow or other been absorbed into the exalted realm of chess. As his story unfolds, the reader enters the world of isolation and solitary that Dr. B endured at the hands of his Nazi tormenters. Zweig is so masterful at the depiction of the incarceration and the man's mental salvation through the game of chess that we as readers are carried along so forcibly that we leave the confines of our homes for the world of Dr. B. Every emotion he experienced, every racing of his pulse, every fearful moment, his ultimate dissociation of his personality and his breakdown are experienced by the reader. The descriptions are powerful and cause a visceral reaction that is astonishing. As I was reading, I started to note a racing pulse and sweating and a sense of uncontrollable foreboding. As the story raced to its conclusion, I had the urge to shout, "Halt! Don't play again!" I wept when I set the book down. The tears were for Dr. B, all of the victims of the Nazi carnage and perhaps also a reaction to what came to pass, the suicide of the author. This gem of a small book explores and disturbs the human psyche like no other.
Chess provides the frame for the story, but the core is something else: the fight for survival and sanity under psychological torture.
The hero of the story is Dr.B, from a well known Austrian family connected to church and court circles. Dr.B had worked as a lawyer dealing in asset management, which meant in the 1930s: hiding wealth from the rapacious claws of the Nazis. After the Nazis take over Austria, Dr.B is among the first arrestees, but he is not submitted to camp treatment. Rather he is put under a kind of luxurious isolation torture and also patiently and time-consumingly interrogated about the whereabouts of his clients' assets.
Luckily he finds a book with 150 chess cases, which keeps him sane for some months. After he has replayed all the 150 matches countless times, he dives deeper and deeper into chess and finally submits to a mental breakdown, following months of playing chess in his mind against himself.
He becomes useless to his captors and is let go. He emigrates.
The story finds him on a steamer from NY to Buenos Aires, where he meets our narrator. Now we are into present tense chess. The star on the ship is the current chess world champion, a youngish and boorish man from Hungary. A wealthy chess amateur from the US is willing to pay the champion for games on board. Dr.B accidentally stumbles into the scene and interferes in a match. He shocks the champion and surprises the others. He accepts the challenge to play `just one' match against the champion, the next day.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A novella by the Austrian author Stefan Zweig which was written between 1938-1941 in a Brasilian exile and... Read more
A total page turner! I don't remember ever reading a book so quickly. Strongly advised. Eve i.e. he know nothing about chess.Published 4 months ago by suzanne & john pahmer
Written shortly before his suicide, Zweig produced a powerful and gripping novella. This is a memorable small gem.Published 5 months ago by J Wags
I detect strong parallels between reading a novel and the game of chess. There is the author sitting on one side, playing white, the reader on the other side, playing black;... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Interesting even to those who don't play chess with good character descriptions.Published 5 months ago by Suzieq
It is so nice to read quality literature. Short and absorbing, we see some of the many flaws in humans. I recommend this book.Published 6 months ago by PugPeople
Two opposite characters. One is a peasant with no family, the other, a rich Austrian aristocrat. One is almost illiterate, the other a well educated man, one of the most famous... Read morePublished 7 months ago by R Parreira
Chess Story is a profound novella written just before Zweig's tragic suicide. The story begins with a description of a chess champion who seems to have little other talent or... Read morePublished 7 months ago by R. J. Marsella