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3.27 of 5 stars 3.27  ·  rating details  ·  303 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Zugzwang —A chess term used to describe a position in which a player is reduced to utter helplessless: he is obliged to move, but every move serves to make his position even worse.

A thriller set in St. Petersburg in 1914 amid an international chess tournament and a series of mysterious murders. Zugzwang unfolds in a city on the verge of revolution. On a blustery April day,...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 30th 2007 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 1st 2006)
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Rusiru Ekanayaka
Zugzwang - a review

When I first started Zugzwang, being completely unfamiliar with any of Ronan Bennett's work decided to browse goodreads for reviews - naturally - to see what I was getting myself into. A recurring notion I held, indefatigably, while reading the reviews was the division of the fiction readership into two broad groups, dissimilar in interest behind their purposes for reading. For ease, I shall refer to them as the genuines and the braves. If I were to be asked, I would like to t...more
A fun thriller, even for those (like me) with no knowledge of Russian history. The story concerns a psychotherapist in Tsarist Russia who becomes embroiled in plots of chess, conspiracy, murder, and, of course, steamy historical sex. It's not quite a page-turner, but it's very well-written, and I learned a teensy bit about Russian history (I didn't know Russia had such an extensive secret police system prior to Communism).

Also, some fun words!

zugzwang (n.) - a position in chess where every move...more
Steph Burton
I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!

Not totally sure about this book. It is illustrated sporadically with chess boards in various stages of play - I don't play the game myself so part of the plot may have passed me by. The plot is interesting without being especially gripping, but basically I found this to be a pleasant enough way to pass a couple of sunny afternoons. A not-quite-thrilling-enough thriller.
Colin N.
Zugzwang is a chess term for a position in which a player is utterly helpless and obliged to move but whose every move makes his position even worse. An apt word to describe the web of political intrigue and murder in which the protagonist, Dr. Otto Spethman, becomes entangled.

Spethman, a psychoanalyst, along with his headstrong young daughter, abruptly becomes implicated in a murder he knows nothing about. Meanwhile he finds himself becoming increasingly involved with a troubled patient and an...more
Rob Kitchin
Zugzwang moves along at quick clip, the story laced with intrigue and twists. The historical context of St Petersburg in 1914, and its various conspiracies and revolutionary plots, forms a nice backdrop to the story without dominating the narrative. The characterisation is well realised, if a little clichéd at times, and whilst the writing is engaging and plot intricate, the tale felt a little over-contrived, with various, complex inter-relations between several characters and interweaving subpl...more
Having faithfully cut-out and pasted in a scrapbook the Observer serialisation a few years back, I finally got round to reading the whole un-interrupted story - though I understand some of the discrepencies, loose-ends and final denouement have been tidied up in the final novel.

A consequence of the serial format is that it really lends itself to an action-packed narrative and Bennett uses this to his advantage with some fantastic twists of plot that kept me guessing right to the end (he himself...more
Monica Carter
zug-zwang: –noun Chess. a situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect.

I will readily admit that after reading Nabokov's The Defense(or the newer title, The Luzhin Defense), I am fascinated by chess novels, which almost categorically leads to a Russian novel. With my predilection for Russian writers as well as the automatic intellectual bent of a novel using the game of chess as an allegory or metaphor, it was difficult for me for me to...more
PART historical novel, part thriller, Irish writer Ronan Bennett's fifth novel is a page-turner with a clever premise.

As an explanation at the start of the book states, zugzwang is a chess term describing a situation in which "a player is reduced to a state of utter helplessness... obliged to move, but every move only makes his position worse."

That player would seem to be our narrator, Dr Spethmann, a St. Petersburg psychoanalyst in the mould of Freud. The widower's sedate bourgeois life is chan...more
Monica Carter
zug-zwang: –noun Chess. a situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect.

I will readily admit that after reading Nabokov's The Defense(or the newer title, The Luzhin Defense), I am fascinated by chess novels, which almost categorically leads to a Russian novel. With my predilection for Russian writers as well as the automatic intellectual bent of a novel using the game of chess as an allegory or metaphor, it was difficult for me for me to...more
Andrew Thompson
£2 from the Last Bookshop on Walton Street - bargain. However, this was a disappointing novel. I liked the use of the chess metaphor all the way through but I thought the book lacked atmosphere and well-drawn characters. I felt the plot was muddled and didn't really capture my imagination. The ending, which was meant to be quite emotional, left me unmoved. I was just glad to have finished the book. I was hoping for something that would capture pre-revolutionary Russia and its unrest and unease...more
I read the advance copy of the book, so my review may not be fitting if the book changed significantly before it was released. This novel is told from the point of view of a Jewish psychoanalyst in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the 20th century. Both he and setting are charming; he is an erudite chess player in a world of fine French cuisine and classical music, but Bennett quickly shows us the ugly side of Russia.

The narrator is clearly limited by his time and profession. At the beginning...more
I really enjoyed this book, and I think I would have liked it even more if I understood the game of chess at all. This story occurs in 1914 in St. Petersburg. The main character is a pyschoanalyst who playes chess with his best friend, a violin player. St. Petersburg is getting ready to host a world-wide chess championship, and the pyschoanalyst starts counciling one of the local chess players who is a favorite to win the tournament. One day, he is visited by the police who want him to give them...more
Barbara ★
I might have enjoyed this more if I had an inkling of Russian politics. The situation isn't adequately described. The main protagonists aren't identified other than by name. It was almost impossible to figure out who was who and why things were happening. And throw in the whole chess thing (chess is beyond my scope of understanding so the boards and moves described in the book were pointless to me) and I was totally clueless.

The events didn't happen in sequence which is very confusing. For insta...more
There wasn't enough chess in it for me. Also, I was hoping we would go to the big chess tournament taking place in the city at the time. Well, we did go...briefly, but I was wanting to go during the times when Avrom played. I am usually a big fan of early Russian history, but I still had difficulty following the plot. Still, it was a good story.
Jan 22, 2008 Corny rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Corny by: Barnes and Noble
Shelves: thrillers
While the plot is somewhat farfetched, the writing is interesting and the pacing is good. The best part is the setting of Pre Revolutionary St. Petersburg, meticulously rendered by the author whose research is evident (and if not evident then minutely detailed at the end of the book!!)
The central character seems a bit naive for a psychoanalyst but perhaps he like his patients is out of contact with the real world until the events of the book begin to shatter his life.
Bennett has also written the...more
The setting was good, but it took me several chapters to get into the book. The narration was first person but it felt cold and impersonal; the author was talking to the reader and not the character. That never really changed. There were moments when the character was 'talking' but most of the time it was the author wearing the protagonist as a mask, if you follow me.

I stopped reading the book when I realized I was skipping over chunks of the narrative to get to the one thing I was interested in...more
Margaret Sankey
The murder of an influential but scandalous publisher leads Tsarist police to Dr. Otto Spethmann, respectable society psychotherapist, and his eccentric clients--a wealthy debutante and a fragile, high-strung chess prodigy. That this centers around an international chess tournament, and the date is the summer of 1914, raise the stakes for intrigue beyond the claustrophobic confines of upper class St. Petersburg life and into a world on the brink of catastrophe. Clever, with in-jokes that reward...more
Stephen Cadywold
Having read The Catastrophist I started this book thinking it was going to be a more serious and political pastiche of Boris Akunin and without the quirky charms of Erast Fandorin. I wasn't too far wrong, but that doesn't detract from the fact it's an intriguing read. However, without a good knowledge of chess I found the chess diagrams and notations distracting and meaningless, and it was confusing trying to work out to which faction/political party/anarchist group/security service characters b...more
A novel about a Jewish psychoanalyst and his daughter caught up in a political conspiracy to assassinate the Tsar in 1914, this didn't work for me at all. The characters felt contrived and the plot had as much tension as a Russian flag on a rainy day in St Petersburg. The political and philosophical debate that underpins much of the story fails to challenge the reader and rarely rises above the level of a secondary school history class. A thriller without thrills and a historical novel with no r...more
James Marinero
Oh, the joys of serendipity - I turned this up in the laundry cum library at a marina in Sicily. I was never a chess person, but the plot is superbly woven, and the fact that I have been to St Petersburg illuminated more for me. I learned about the prelude to the Russian revolution, and hadn't appreciated that St P had been such a wealthy city. Anyway, a great book - and it is superbly well researched, dissecting Russian social strata very well. 4++ - nearly a 5. Oh for more books like this - en...more
As opposed to "Carl Haffners love of the draw" this is a very light read and so I don't feel quite as critical of it. The above mentioned book catches the time within which it is set beautifully, but lacks in other respects (for instance: the main - though rather marginal - female character seems to have time travelled from the late twentieth century) wheras this book is just entertaining. If you really feel the urge to read a book about chess, then go for Stefan Zweig and let the rest play in t...more
Fast paced thriller, set in Russia but easy parallels are drawn with other revolutionary times. One of the characters appears very George Galloway-like, and the themes of informers and betrayals is reminiscent of the Scappaticci affair with the IRA. A good book; the possibility exists of picking up the threads with another book following the mysterious detective, Lychev, a la Olen Steinhauer's series of books revolving around different characters that overlap his books.
Oddly enough, this is the second book about chess that I've read in the last month. While not exactly a page-turner, I enjoyed this thriller for the dark atmosphere and historical setting in pre-Revolutionary Russia. I know how the chess pieces move but that's about all, so I'm sure I missed some of the . On the eve of a chess tournament, a newspaper editor and a student are found murdered, and a psychiatrist and his daughter are implicated.
A Russian psychoanalyst on the eve of the Russian Revolution gets caught as an unwitting chess piece in the battle of the warring revolutionary forces. The action rolls relentlessly until the end. In this read, I refined my knowledge of the early 20th century Russia. Since our protagonist is a psychoanalyst, he captures the terrifying emotional turmoil. I give it 4 stars.
Sam Reaves
A historical thriller set in St. Petersburg in 1914. Revolution is in the air, the world chess championship has brought Capablanca, Lasker and other geniuses to town, and multiple intrigues are afoot: political, criminal and sexual. A Jewish psychiatrist struggles with personal and professional crises as the Tsarist world begins to crumble. Original and absorbing.
Light reading really, improbable characters and plot, not something I would re read, perhaps there was more symbolism in the chess moves that were detailed than I understood, the shocking sex scene in the middle seemed incongruous to me, rather overstated and prolonged, unecessary to the plot development. It might make an interesting linear film one day.
Interesting chess-themed novel set in St. Petersburg, 1914. Chess enthusiasts will find many inside references; for instance, a significant peripheral character is clearly based on the enigmatic Akiba Rubinstein. One small gripe: there are a few lamentable typographical errors involving the chess diagrams.
Un giallo scritto in maniera raffinata, per nulla scontato. Le pagine scivolano come ciliege, una tira l'altra. Non � convulso o eclatante, ma la sua bellezza � che pu� essere "reale" Un libro che consiglia a chi piace, oltre la trama, il leggere pulito, in una traduzione degna dellanostra lingua.
I love broody, dark period pieces like this where allegiances are in constant flux and it's never quite clear who's a good guy and who's trying to kill you. Bennett gets that ambiguity perfectly right and offers up an intense story of Russia on the eve of revolution.
Mel Russell
Psychology, chess, Russia, politics and assassination plots all come together to form an interesting, yet slightly confusing plot. I thought this novel was interestingly written, as it had a laid back, prosaic feel to it but felt like a lot happened at the same time.
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Ronan Bennett is a novelist and screenwriter who was born and brought up in Northern Ireland and now lives in London. His third novel, The Catastrophist, was nominated for the Whibread award in 1998. Havoc, in Its Third Year (2004) was listed for the Booker prize. Havoc has been adapted into a motion picture to be released later in 2012. His latest novel is Zugzwang. His television drama Top Boy w...more
More about Ronan Bennett...
The Catastrophist Havoc, in Its Third Year Overthrown By Strangers The Second Prison La seconda prigione

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