Long before Deep Blue, the chess-playing IBM computer, beat Gary Kasparov, there was the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing automaton that held the courts of 18th-century Europe in thrall. Invented by Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen, the Turk was an apparatus of springs, cogwheels, cables, and cylinders clothed in Turkish robes that made the seemingly impossible leap of cognition -- a thinking machine with an unbeaten record in the Game of Kings against the best chess masters of Europe. But this was all an illusion, of course. For within the cabinet of the mechanism was hidden an unseen operator -- a well-kept secret that went unrevealed until the baron's death.
From these historical facts, Löhr has conjured a fascinating historical novel to match the audacity of the original invention. The Chess Machine imagines a chess-playing Italian dwarf, Tibor, as the operator, and an old Jewish artisan as the builder. All goes well, until a beautiful and seductive countess dies -- under mysterious circumstances -- in the presence of the Turk. To sustain the grand illusion, some will pay dearly, and some will pay with their lives.
The Chess Machine is a magical first novel about courtly life, class, and religion -- and of one social pariah, Tibor, a God-fearing, chess-playing dwarf who embodies the shadow and terror of the very society that shuns him. (Fall 2007 Selection)