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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.
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!
Posted January 3, 2009
Posted October 23, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.