The Chess Garden: Or, the Twilight Letters of Gustav Uyterhoeven

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In the fall of 1900, Dr. Gustav Uyterhoeven left the chess garden that he and his wife, Sonja, had created together in Dayton, Ohio, and journeyed to South Africa to serve as a doctor in the British concentration camps of the Boer War. Over the next ten months he sent twelve chess pieces and twelve letters back to Sonja. She set out her husband's gifts as they arrived and welcomed all the most faithful guests of the garden to come and hear what he had written - letters which told nothing of his experience of the ...
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Overview

In the fall of 1900, Dr. Gustav Uyterhoeven left the chess garden that he and his wife, Sonja, had created together in Dayton, Ohio, and journeyed to South Africa to serve as a doctor in the British concentration camps of the Boer War. Over the next ten months he sent twelve chess pieces and twelve letters back to Sonja. She set out her husband's gifts as they arrived and welcomed all the most faithful guests of the garden to come and hear what he had written - letters which told nothing of his experience of the camps but described an imagined land called the Antipodes, where all the game pieces that cluttered the sets and drawers of the garden collection came to life to guide the doctor through his fateful and wondrous last adventure. Brooks Hansen offers a tale of spiritual progress disguised in the most exotic visions of the imagination. And yet The Chess Garden encompasses a very real world, too. Alongside the doctor's visions of the Antipodes, the story of his life gradually unfolds as well. History and allegory are expertly woven until finally both lead back to the chess garden itself, a place where ideas give way to vision, reason meets faith, and fact and figment are finally reconciled.

In the tradition of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Hansen offers a tale of spiritual progress disguised in the most exotic visions of the imagination. And yet The Chess Garden encompasses a very real world, too. Over a ten-month period, beginning in the fall of 1900, a doctor who has traveled to South Africa to serve in the Boer War engages in a utopian kind of communication with his wife, via letters and a long-distance chess game. Illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A rare and exciting work of character and imagination, Hansen's new novel (after the highly praised Boone, which he coauthored with Nick Davis) is set in 19th-century Dayton, Ohio, in Europe and South Africa during the Boer War and on an imaginary island, the Antipodes. During his journey to the heart of the war, where he has volunteered to serve in a British-run concentration camp for forcibly displaced Boers, Dr. Gustav Uyterhoeven sends 12 letters to his wife, Sonja, in Dayton. The letters, fabulist explorations in the manner of Poe, Chesterton and Borges, describe a world where chess pieces, including a queen trapped in a tree, live, die, love, battle and philosophize. With a delightfully deft touch, Hansen carries this conceit off convincingly, and without a hint of sentimentality. Uyterhoeven is a remarkable character, dapper yet heartbroken, civilized, swinging his cane, journeying through sundry marvels with an air of concern and wonder that the reader comes to share. Meanwhile, back in Dayton, the reading of each new letter becomes an event; and, mysteriously, chess pieces mentioned in the letters begin to appear in the Uyterhoevens' garden. This is a complex and powerful work that achieves meaning in the most indelible way possible, through being an extraordinarily well-told tale. Black-and-white illustrations, not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This remarkable second novel by the coauthorwith Nick Davisof the critically acclaimed Boone (S. & S., 1990) is a masterpiece of surreal storytelling in the tradition of Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Set at the turn of the century, it is the tale of a physician who leaves his home, with its "chess garden," in Dayton, Ohio, to minister to victims of South Africa's Boer War. As he undergoes a spiritual conversion, the doctor proceeds to send his wife a series of letters chronicling an imagined parallel universe called the Antipodes where the game pieces from his garden collection have come to life to guide him through a fantastic and fateful adventure. A writer with a rare gift for evocative description, Hansen deftly weaves allegory and history in this compelling narrative, which most readers will have a hard time putting down. Highly recommended.David Sowd, formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib., Canton, Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573225632
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/1/1996
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Worth it in the End

    Admittedly, this book took me awhile to get into.
    But, once I had, the characters, the plot, the imaginary Antipodes were enough to sustain me through several readings to the end of the book. Hansen is a master storyteller able to weave details and plot lines together throughout the course of the book, drawing the reader through mystery, travels, adventure, touching moments and legend to a satisfying and heartbreaking close.
    A novel plot concept, where one story line paralells the other; a discourse in appreciating what you have around you and a quest for spiritual belonging. I should note that there are no highly religious overtones in the book - merely an exploration of different arenas of thought. It's hard to be specific without giving anything away!
    Worthwhile for young adults and older adults alike, I would recommend this book to anyone with an open, intellectual mind. Chess mastery optional!

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  • Posted January 3, 2009

    Original

    This book was very original and imaginative. It made me seek ot all other books written by the author.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2001

    Read it!

    I never thought I'd ever be able to say that I have a favorite book. Then I read The Chess Garden, and read it again and again. The Chess Garden explores the opposition of allopathy and homeopathy, the modern versus the old world, the scientific world versus the unknowable world, through the history of Dr Uyterhoeven's life and through his fictional journey to the Antipodes, a land of game pieces. Uyterhoeven's life's work is pitted against the real-life Dr. Virchow, the father of modern pathology, Uyterhoeven believing that attributing cause to the known world limits our understanding of a world ultimately unknowable and lessens our experience of it. Uyterhoeven's letters to the neighborhood children of his adventures in the Antipodes parallel the spiritual journey that Uyterhoeven's lifetime is. It is the sheer beauty of Hansen's imagination as elaborated in the Antipodes that makes this book so wonderful. The land of the Antipodes is so sensually rich in detail and so breathtakingly original that I challenge anyone to find another fictional land like it. The philosophy of the book is one of integration--a philosophy that embraces individualism as well as humanitarianism, intuition as well as wisdom--and the spirituality of the book (god is cause) is one that enhances all religion or irreligion. If it were up to me, every person alive would read this book because it surely speaks to the artist in all of us and it cannot fail to enhance anyone's deepest spirituality and moral core. It apalls me that Hansen did not win any of the myriad literary awards out there for this tour de force, but I think it is the greatest book to come out of the twentieth century.

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