Mark's Reviews > Chess Story

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
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's review
Jun 26, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read in June, 2008

Even if I hadn't learned later that Stefan Zweig idolized Sigmund Freud, I would have known it from this novella. It starts out ostensibly as a look at the strange life of the world's chess champion, whom the narrator encounters on a cruise ship. The beetle-browed, stoic champion has almost no interest in anything else in life and no discernible talents beyond the 64 squares of the board.

But that's not what the story really turns out to be. Instead, as amateurs on the ship are struggling to win one game against the champion, a stranger intervenes and helps them play to a draw. It is his story -- a story of capture in Zweig's native Austria by the invading Nazis and his psychological torture -- that becomes the centerpiece. He remains sane solely due to acquiring by luck a book of championship chess matches, which he memorizes and learns to play in his head. Then he begins to imagine matches in which he plays against himself, and this propels him to his tortured Freudian state of incipient dissociation from reality.

The man agrees to a final match against the world champion, and this sets up the climactic tension. Will he go crazy? Will he triumph? You'll have to read it to find out, but all told, it should only take you a couple hours.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Martine I hope you enjoy it! It's fairly short, so if you don't like it, you won't be wasting much of your time. :-)

Mark I'm three pages in and it's ready well. I look forward to it, and will post a review when I'm done. I actually wanted to start with his memoir about Vienna, but I haven't been able to find a library copy

Martine I look forward to reading your review. In the meantime, happy reading!

Pity about the memoir; it's supposed to be excellent. Surely you can get it through inter-library loan?

Mark I plan to keep hunting. I've been interested for a long time in that period in Vienna. I once attempted to read Peter Gay's "Schnitzler's Century" but was very put off by the writing.

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