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Group reads > The Chess Game (spoilers) May 2014 group read

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message 1: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
About this author

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Stefan Zweig was one of the world's most famous writers during the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the U.S., South America and Europe. He produced novels, plays, biographies and journalist pieces. Among his most famous works are Beware of Pity, Letter from and Unknown Woman and Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles. He and his second wife committed suicide in 1942.

Zweig studied in Austria, France, and Germany before settling in Salzburg in 1913. In 1934, driven into exile by the Nazis, he emigrated to England and then, in 1940, to Brazil by way of New York. Finding only growing loneliness and disillusionment in their new surroundings, he and his second wife committed suicide.

Zweig's interest in psychology and the teachings of Sigmund Freud led to his most characteristic work, the subtle portrayal of character. Zweig's essays include studies of Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Drei Meister, 1920; Three Masters) and of Friedrich Hlderlin, Heinrich von Kleist, and Friedrich Nietzsche (Der Kampf mit dem Dmon, 1925; Master Builders). He achieved popularity with Sternstunden der Menschheit (1928; The Tide of Fortune), five historical portraits in miniature. He wrote full-scale, intuitive rather than objective, biographies of the French statesman Joseph Fouché (1929), Mary Stuart (1935), and others. His stories include those in Verwirrung der Gefhle (1925; Conflicts). He also wrote a psychological novel, Ungeduld des Herzens (1938; Beware of Pity), and translated works of Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and mile Verhaeren.

message 2: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Chess Story by Stefan Zweig The Royal game & other stories by Stefan Zweig Chess Story by Stefan Zweig.

Interesting read. Let the discussion begin (and please nominate a novella for June).

message 3: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 569 comments I jumped the gun and read Chess Story a couple of weeks ago. I had never heard of Stefan Zweig. Because I read it on a Kindle, I'm not sure how long it is, but it's short - perhaps a novelette. I am away from home - more when I return to my PC next week. I hope everybody reads it and adds to the discussion in the meantime.

I thought it was excellent!

message 4: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Buck wrote: "I jumped the gun and read Chess Story a couple of weeks ago. I had never heard of Stefan Zweig. Because I read it on a Kindle, I'm not sure how long it is, but it's short - perhaps a novelette. I..."

I am also finished. It is a novella in the classic sense - coming in at 80+ pages. I thought the writing was very good and compelling. I don't know why they didn't leave the title as "The Royal Game" which is much more evocative.

message 5: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I'm waiting for my library hold and am eager to start. I should have it in a couple of days. (Apparently, Zweig is enjoying a bit of a revival due to the film The Grand Budapest Hotel being inspired by his work.)

message 6: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Candiss wrote: "I'm waiting for my library hold and am eager to start. I should have it in a couple of days. (Apparently, Zweig is enjoying a bit of a revival due to the film The Grand Budapest Hotel being inspi..."

I loved that film. I enjoy Wes Anderson - very inventive and original, this new especially so. Very whimsical, which this book "The Chess Game" was not, nor are his other works like "Letter from an Unknown Woman" [there is a famous film of that work I haven't seen, but want to - it stars Joan Fontain].

message 7: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) This has been a very enjoyable discovery of an author I was not aware of. I'll be exploring him more. Maybe each year we can have Zweig month, or something.
I have to type this in, I read it out loud to my kids, and to other friends. They started listening politely, then got all caught up in it:

"But are we not already guilty of an insulting limitation in calling chess a game? Isn't it also a science, an art, hovering between these two categories as Muhammed's coffin hovered between heaven and earth? Isn't it a unique bond between every pair of opponents, ancient and yet eternally new; mechanical in its framework and yet only functioning through use of the imagination; confined in geometrically fixed space and at the same time released from confinement by its permutations; continuously evolving yet sterile; thought that leads nowhere, mathematics that add up to nothing, art without an end product, architecture without substance, and nevertheless demonstrably more durable in its true nature and existence than any books or creative works? Isn't it the only game that belongs to all peoples and all times? And who knows whether God put it on earth to kill boredom, to sharpen the wits or to lift the spirits? Where is its beginning and where its end?"

And that, dear reader, is why we DO call it a game. Because it's a simple way of attempting to cover all THAT ground,listed above, and not faint from lack of oxygen. :)
Beautiful writing, beautiful translation. I get ticked by translations, sometimes. This one soothed.

message 8: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I asked my all wise 13 year old about the two titles, and she summed it up perfectly. She said, off the cuff: "Publishers don't think Americans can handle big words".
I still have to figure out which title was published on which side of the Atlantic. I suspect the publishers didn't think Americans would understand what the royal game was, so they made it more specific. I could be wrong.

message 9: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Oh, and I thought I'd pitch in a Wendell Berry book for June: Hannah Coulter.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

message 10: by Ivan (last edited May 03, 2014 10:16AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I thought Zweig did a brilliant job depicting the detrimental effects of prolonged isolation on the psyche. In most civilized countries they consider solitary confinement a form of cruel and unusual punishment or torture. Being locked away without human contact, often without light - a dark room or cell. No reading material. No television. No window. Pure isolation. People go mad.

RE: the chess champ Czentovic. The early description of the character sounded to me as though he may actually be autistic - perhaps a chess savant. However, much later in the narrative he speaks in such a way that makes me doubt my initial reading of the character. Perhaps he suffered from dyslexia and wasn't simply "stupid" as his guardian thought. Why then is he so rude and socially aloof? Well, if everyone one you knew kept calling you an idiot and a moron you'd be shy and or defensive as well.

I was proud of the narrator for stepping in and helping Dr. B.

message 11: by A.M. (new)

A.M. Oldroyd | 19 comments I've loved chess since I was a little boy, I've always been fascinated by the preposterous complexity hidden within such seemingly simple game. Sadly I'm not very good at it myself, but I thought Zweig expertly described the intricacies & mysteries of the game in a way that made it accessible to those with a very basic, or even no knowledge of chess. I particularly like the way it nods at the idea that in chess one can only achieve true greatness if you are touched by a sort of defect or madness, whether born that way like young boy or driven to insanity & obsession by others like his opponent. It's strange how Zweig foreshadows Bobby Fischer, regarded by many as the greatest ever chess player, who became embroiled in the Cold War and suffered his own descent into madness. Like the game itself I think this seemingly simple novella has a lot of hidden complexity. I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for weeks!

message 12: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I did sort of wonder at the initial description of Czentovic and how it didn't seem to jive with his later dialog. I'm still thinking about that one.
I really liked the level of compassion that was displayed, as well, by the narrator and the poor Dr. B.

message 13: by A.M. (new)

A.M. Oldroyd | 19 comments I wonder if the change in Czentovic is Zweig's way of commenting on how easily we are willing to accept the version of events we are presented with? We've always mythologised our heroes & villains, and after all Czentovic's back story is told secondhand; could it not just be part of a 'public image' used to increase interest and demand in 'the product' Czentovic himself. Much the same way famous people today utilise publicity agents. It's made clear Czentovic is very interested in maximising his financial gain. Could it just be another move by the grandmaster? The public has always been willing to accept and devour outrageous tales about celebrities or people in the news. Maybe Zweig is also hinting that Dr. B's extreme story could have been embellished in the telling? I hope not, as like the narrator my sympathies lay with the Austrian.

message 14: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It's certainly food for thought. People in the public eye will certainly reinvent themselves if they believe it'll make them seem more interesting.

message 15: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 85 comments I thought it was a superb novella. It really crammed so much into a few pages. And it got the chess more or less right. I am a moderately talented chess player and it is a game that often gets to be in films and books but rarely in a way that is authentic, captures something of the real game, and is not either massively wrong or superficial...

There is lots more to the book than chess but it even gets those bits right. For its time it is also a remarkably credible account of solitude, torture and the impact it can have on the psyche. It also captures something of the dangers of chess in terms of it being a rabbit hole that certain types of mind can escape into but struggle to come out of sane and normal.

message 16: by A.M. (new)

A.M. Oldroyd | 19 comments Yes, chess is such a difficult game to accurately portray in films and literature. I'd be interested to know which you think are the most accurate representations Ben?

message 17: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Unfortunately I won't be able to read the book until the middle of May. I am not a chess player. Any thoughts on whether that may alter my opinion of the book?

message 18: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It will have no effect on your opinion whatsoever.

message 19: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 85 comments The only other book that I can remember feeling chess was handled well in was something by Amy Tan, possibly The Kitchen God's Wife.

I did a bit of googling and promising stuff is said about some of Vladimir Nabokov's work, particularly The The Luzhin Defense.

I really like Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There but I think this is more fantasy themed around chess than something that says anything about chess players.

I dont think you need to be at all familiar with the game to enjoy the book. The only difference would be you would not perhaps appreciate how well the chess side of it is handled but there is far more to the story than chess.

message 20: by A.M. (new)

A.M. Oldroyd | 19 comments Agreed, the story is so rich and deftly handled that you don't need to know anything about chess for the narrative to work. I'd say overall it was a very easy book to read, I devoured it in a couple of hours.

message 21: by A.M. (new)

A.M. Oldroyd | 19 comments The Luzhin Defence looks interesting Ben. Looks like it was first published in Berlin in 1930. I wonder if Zweig ever read it?

message 22: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) There are a few references to chess positions on the board that I didn't follow, but they did little to interfere with my reading. I grasped them well enough to appreciate what the character was doing.

message 23: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I remember reading a sports biography A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played and the author took great pains to list the scores for each game within a match (and there were many, many matches) and I'd just skim right over them because a little bit of that goes a long way [Capote would say: "that's not writing, that's typing"]. And I ask you seriously, who is ever going to remember any if those stats once the book is closed? Not me. Happily Zweig doesn't fall into that trap and mire his narrative; he tells you just enough about the game to convince you he knows what he's talking about.

message 24: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Whew! I will dive head first then when I get to it. Thanks all for the reassurance.

I read a book called The Eight" this winter that had chess as a theme - it was a tome, and pretty meh on my literary scale.

message 25: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Can't wait to hear your input.

message 26: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 569 comments Zweig wrote Chess Story very succinctly. It is the opposite of the verbosity that we occasionally come across in some authors. And yet, it doesn't seem abbreviated either. The descriptions of the two chess opponents are very well told.

I agree with the remarks of others above, that from the description of the chess master's upbringing we are led to believe that he is a dolt, an idiot savant. And yet on the ship, while taciturn, he seems capable of reasonable dialog.

Dr. B's description of solitary confinement is completely convincing. It is akin to that described by Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom.

This little story is so well told that I want to read more of Zweig. I had never heard of him before.

message 27: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Yes, he's on my list of 'new' authors to return to, as well. Love this group.

message 28: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 569 comments Lora wrote: "Yes, he's on my list of 'new' authors to return to, as well. Love this group."

This group has waxed and waned, Lora, but overall it's been pretty good. I've certainly read some authors I wouldn't have otherwise.

I've enjoyed your posts.

message 29: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I was especially impressed by the scenes with the chimp and the showgirl. At first I didn't see how the author was going to bring all these elements together, but by the end it all made perfect sense.

message 30: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 569 comments Ivan wrote: "I was especially impressed by the scenes with the chimp and the showgirl. At first I didn't see how the author was going to bring all these elements together, but by the end it all made perfect se..."

I read this a month ago, and I admit that my memory is quite porous, but the chimp and the showgirl? Perfect sense at the end? I have no recollection at all.

message 31: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Just seeing who was paying attention Buck. I'm a little bit crazy.

message 32: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I noticed. I was just so embarrassed for you I went and hid my head under my pillow until you caught yourself. Glad I can come out now.
Besides, for a moment there, I really thought we were suddenly still discussing Dr. Lao, or something.
I'm the one who could have dreamed up the entire Zweig thing, ala George Orr. I might've gone and hid until that blew over, too. I'm not sayin'.

message 33: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Cool. A discussion mash-up.

message 34: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 569 comments Ivan wrote: "Just seeing who was paying attention Buck. I'm a little bit crazy."

What Lora said. Or I thought maybe it was a test - but you did arouse self doubt.


message 35: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Lora wrote: "I noticed. I was just so embarrassed for you I went and hid my head under my pillow until you caught yourself. Glad I can come out now.
Besides, for a moment there, I really thought we were sudd..."

You are too funny.

message 36: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I've finally got my copy. *averts eyes from this thread to avoid spoilers*

(I'll be back.) :)

message 37: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 85 comments I am yet to read any more zweig although I have quite a few of his books in the house - if anyone has read any other books or stories by the author then what would they recommend?

message 38: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 85 comments I was a bit surprised by the lack of discussion on this book but then,the more I think about it Chess story is a book that both covers so much that it leaves less need to discuss its contents by the effectiveness with which the story is told and also I think it is a book that creates a very personal, emotional reaction to the reader, to me anyway on reading it.

I think it raises a lot of challenging and interesting questions that I am still mulling after having read this quite a few months ago.

message 39: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I have to agree on that. I'm still experiencing the book. I finished it awhile ago, but still feel it and think it.
I haven't read any other Zweig, either. I plan on coming back, but not right away. I will nominate him as an Author We Must Return To.
Also, the weather has gotten better. I myself spend less time online as a result. May is plantin' time, y'all!

message 40: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Here's one thing I can ask. Ben, what was one of your favorite passages?

message 41: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I will finally get and read it this weekend!

message 42: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments FINALLY! Just read it! Need to go back and read comments, but I found this very intense. Started a bit slow. I often needed to entertain myself as a child/youth (grew up rural and a bit younger than my siblings.) One of my entertainments was playing Scrabble with myself. Until I met someone else who said they also did that, I found it embarrassing. Now I think I was able to develop the ability to keep myself entertained - I am rarely bored.

message 43: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) There were six in my family, and mostly boys. I prize solitude as a result. But for me, a game always needed a couple brothers or a sister. Reading is my game of solitude.
Know what was embarrassing for me when I was young? You did NOT let people know you read sci-fi. not back then! It was a waste and useless and not real reading, etc. It was associated with B-movies. So even though everyone at home read sci-fi (I blame my dad) we all kept it real quiet at school especially, and elsewhere.
Then Star Wars came out and the culture changed.

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