Stefan Zweig – Schachnovelle (08-026)
Obligatory reading is secondary schools makes students looking for easy choices. Novels with few pages are always popular. I chose to do French for my exams, but those who had chosen German all knew this book by Zweig. ‘Chess novel’ was popular in those days. It did fascinate me as well, as chess is a complicated yet fascinating game. For a long time, during the Fischer-Spasski days chess became a euphemism for the Cold War. To me, growing up during the Karpov-Kasparov era, the game had some magical spell about it.
Not until twenty years later did I finally decide to read the book by Zweig. During a recent trip to Berlin I packed the book and read it during the short visit. Not only is the book fairly thin, it is also a great read. Difficult to put down. Yet, it wasn’t like some piece of chicklit or some other light reading. The story takes place on a long boat journey from New York to Buenos Aires. The millionaire McConnor recognizes the world champion Chess aboard and challenges him to a game. He has to pay, as the champion only plays for money, but he loves the idea of having played the World Champion.
Several players put their heads together, to make the game more even, but it doesn’t help. During the second game, an outsider walks past and tells the group what to do next. Even better, he predicts exactly what the champion will do next. He turns out to be better than all of them together and forces a draw.
What is his story? Where does he come from? How come he plays chess so well? When he tells his history, chess suddenly seems less important, but in the same time the most important thing in the world.
Great story. Not just great, but really fascinatingly good. Zweig, when fleeing for the Nazi’s to Brazil must have had plenty of time to write this story in his head. I’m glad he did. The world would have missed one of the great novels.
Quote: “Bisher hatten wir ohne ernstliche Hoffnung gespielt, nun aber trieb der Gedanke, den kalten Hochmut Czentovics zu brechen, uns eine fliegende Hitze durch alle Pulse.“ (page 25)
Translation (mine, therefore not literally): “Up until then we had been playing without real hope, but now, the thought that we could break the cold arrogance of Czentovic, gave us a higher pulse than ever.”
Title: Schachnovelle (Translation: Chess novel)
Author: Stefan Zweig
# Pages: 64 (4780)