This novella is 76 pages long. As with The Post Office Girl, which I read earlier in the year, it blew me away with it’s intensity. Stefan Zweig says much with few words. It is beautifully written and even in translation is effortless to read.
The world chess champion is on board a cruise ship from New York to Buenos Aires. The narrator learns of him and his story through a fellow passenger. His genius at chess does not extend to life in general. He is a man who shuns social contact and declines the request of the other passengers to play him.
The game eventually takes place, and another which the champ wins without battering an eyelid. If it wasn’t for the money, he would be long gone. Then, a voice in the crowd starts whispering instructions to the challengers, all of a sudden the champ’s interest in piqued. He looks up and realises he has a worthy challenger. Who is this stranger and how can he be skilled enough to match the champion?
It is this stranger’s story that takes the narrative forward with the intensity and suspense building.
Superficially this story is about chess. Beneath the surface it is an exploration of the history and psychology behind both characters. How they have evolved to be the men they are as they face each other across the chess board. Also the author’s history and what had happened to make him the man he was when he wrote the story.