- Paperback: 234 pages
- Publisher: Zugzwang Press (October 9, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0976848902
- ISBN-13: 978-0976848905
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 44 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lisa: A Chess Novel Paperback – October 9, 2013
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Lisa is a story about another, more realistic type of child prodigy. In chess immense talent is often identified early, but rarely does it translate into fame and fortune. Lisa explores the concept that the blindingly brilliant don't just think better, they think different. Sometimes very different. It is a popular theme in literature, but rarely realistically portrayed in part because rarely do authors have significant personal experience in what it is like to be such a child. One gets the impression reading Lisa that the author has more insight than most into this issue, and it shows in his exploration of the darker side of having a radically different thought process than those around you. The fact is that people who dedicate themselves to chess in the United States, people who, one would assume, possess strategic and tactical insight that could be used to craft a comfortable life, instead choose a life where it can be a struggle to stay above the poverty line. Why do people, whose innate brilliance shines so bright, so early, choose lifestyles of hardship and uncertainty? Lisa provides at least one answer...for some there is no choice.
I rate Lisa 5 stars, based on my personal enjoyment of this book and its topic...which is an extremely rare rating for me. I have extreme confidence that it will be enjoyed and savored by those who discovered at an early age that they think differently, whether or not that discovery was made through chess. It is less clear whether it will be enjoyed as deeply by a broader audience...but I hope so.
Lisa searches out a past chess grand champion, a besotted Russian named Igor, who, like Lisa, found chess to be consuming, magical, and mythic. Her lessons with Igor expand into life lessons and the two of them bond. Igor is both father and mother to her. Lisa inherits the rare gift of being mentored into the most the unique world of chess: male dominated, competitive, yet full of individuals who are in love with the poetry of the game.
Though most Lisa's opponents are male, she does develop bonds with other girls...none of whom are from her bland American background, and this is one of most satisfying aspects of the book. Kraai decided to describe Lisa as having Aspergers. This might account for her inability to connect with her birth family and with school...but I don't think it was necessary. Many young people simple don't connect. The lucky ones fall in love with something bigger than themselves, the way Lisa does.
This book is heavy on chess. I spoke of poetry earlier. I had to read large portions of the book as poetry because the chess discussions were over my head...and Igor's accent is pronounced which made filtering through the complexities even more difficult. That being said, I really liked the book. I appreciate how Lisa never grew beautiful on the outside, but by the end of the book she launches into a life where she will be more than a mere survivor.
I am one of the "chess less." The idea that the pieces on the board can speak to a player, tell them their stories, evoke profound emotions and fascinations that last for a lifetime was a revelation to me. The world in Lisa, A Chess Novel that is evoked is gritty and often cruel, but the love of this ancient game is the salve for the wounded lives of both Lisa and Igor.