Gerald Sinstadt's Reviews > Zugzwang

Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett
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Feb 10, 11

bookshelves: fiction-general
Read from February 07 to 08, 2011

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Gerald Sinstadt One reviewer observes that the focus of Ronan Bennett's thriller is on the characters not the plot. Just as well. The characters are well drawn, sufficiently human to have both strengths and weaknesses, carefully portrayed to leave their inner allegiances ambiguous.

Then there is the plot. This is 1914 Russia, an unstable nation of aristocrats and peasants, autocrats and dissidents, spies and would-be assassins; a nation in which the police and the secret police can be both allies and enemies. Against this background, St Petersburg is staging a chess championship involving all the game's actual great figures, Alekhine et al, plus one fictitious character.

Drawn into this volatile mix is Dr Spethmann, a Jewish psychoanalyst whose own long-running chess match with his friend (enemy?), Kopelzon, gives the book its title as well as mirroring the country's state of utter helplessness. It is not necessary to understand chess notation to follow the moves in Spethmann v Kopelzon, but it helps; the same is true of early 20th Century Russian history.

Just embrace the characters, let the plot whisk you through its accelerating twists and Zugzwang will not disappoint.

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