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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590171691
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 11/09/2005
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Pages: 104
Sales rank: 129,396
Product dimensions: 5.01(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.27(d)

About the Author

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), novelist, biographer, poet, and translator, was born in Vienna into a wealthy Austrian Jewish family. During the 1930s, he was one of the best-selling writers in Europe, and was among the most translated German-language writers before the Second World War. With the rise of Nazism, he moved from Salzburg to London (taking British citizenship), to New York, and finally to Brazil, where he committed suicide with his wife. New York Review Books has published Zweig’s novels The Post-Office Girl and Beware of Pity as well as the novella Chess Story.

Peter Gay is Director of the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He wrote Schnitzler’s Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815–1914.

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Chess Story 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Ronci More than 1 year ago
Chess Story by Stephan Zweig; translated by Joel Rotenberg The story takes place on a cruise ship en route from New York to Buenos Aires in 1941. The world chess champion, Mirko Czentovic, is on board. Czentovic is a chess prodigy who is singularly ungifted in other areas of the intellect and social graces. Also on board is Dr. B, a former solicitor for the Austrian imperial family who is traveling to South America as a refugee from the Nazi regime. At the outset, considering Czentovic's isolated and emotionally deprived childhood, I was prepared to allow him his arrogance and conceit. Acknowledged, he was a master at chess and his boorish behavior could be excused. When Dr. B becomes peripherally involved in the chess match and exhibits a mastery of moves, it becomes clear that this man has somehow or other been absorbed into the exalted realm of chess. As his story unfolds, the reader enters the world of isolation and solitary that Dr. B endured at the hands of his Nazi tormenters. Zweig is so masterful at the depiction of the incarceration and the man's mental salvation through the game of chess that we as readers are carried along so forcibly that we leave the confines of our homes for the world of Dr. B. Every emotion he experienced, every racing of his pulse, every fearful moment, his ultimate dissociation of his personality and his breakdown are experienced by the reader. The descriptions are powerful and cause a visceral reaction that is astonishing. As I was reading, I started to note a racing pulse and sweating and a sense of uncontrollable foreboding. As the story raced to its conclusion, I had the urge to shout, "Halt! Don't play again!" I wept when I set the book down. The tears were for Dr. B, all of the victims of the Nazi carnage and perhaps also a reaction to what came to pass, the suicide of the author. This gem of a small book explores and disturbs the human psyche like no other.
Berly on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This one was snagged from Kidzdoc¿s thread (Darryl) and sent to me by Stasia for Mark¿s Christmas Secret Santa book swap. I loved it!! Thanks guys. : )This is a very short story (84 pages), but the story is big. Two chess champions meet on a boat. They have wildly differing stories as to how they became masters of the game. One is the World Champion and the other an unknown. Their histories come to light through the voice of a secondary narrator. One tale involves the holocaust under Hitler. This is not a tale of violence, but rather of psychology. In fact, Zweig was a huge fan of Freud (and vice versa) so this comes as no surprise. Zweig writes beautifully: I love his sentence construction, word choice, and narrator point of view. I longed to follow one of the characters past the ending of the book! I am so taken with this author that I need to find "Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman", one that Freud called a ¿little masterpiece.¿ Highly recommended.An excerpt of Zweig's description of chess: "...mechanically constituted and yet an activity of the imagination alone, limited to a fixed geometric area but unlimited in its permutations, constantly evolving and yet sterile, a cogitation producing nothing, a mathematics calculating nothing, an art without an artwork...and yet demonstrably more durable in its essence and actual form than all books and works, the only game that belongs to all people and eras, while no one knows what god put it on earth to deaden boredom, sharpen the mind, and fortify the spirit?"And one more: "And that was exactly what they wanted--that I should go on gagging on my thoughts until I choked on them and had no choice but to spit them out, to inform, to tell everything, to finally hand over the evidence and the people they wanted."
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Another stellar psychological treatise by Stefan Zweig! This novella offers the reader a powerful glimpse into the world of obsession and monomania. The manuscript was found in 1942 in the author's home in Brazil after he and his wife committed suicide, and the reader cannot help but wonder if this insightful interior scrutiny reflected some of the suffering of Zweig prior to his death. The primary themes include: the power of obsession, the power of solitude, and the ability of both to destroy the psyche. Clearly there is a treatise on Hitler and his monomania in this story as well. All in 84 pages!
labrick on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Excellent story that I found strangely relatable. The version I read had a forward by Peter Gay that I recommend being read after the text--or not at all. It only provided spoilers without adding much backward to the work. I also think chess players would enjoy this book more than non-chess players. Although the game is used mostly as a vehicle.
msaari on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Beautiful novella. I'm always interested in stories that feature games, and Chess Story is definitely a good example of that. Two different men - a chess grandmaster and a nobody - meet at a chess board and the results are... explosive. Much of the book is devoted to the extraordinary background of the Dr. B, his experiences in the Nazi-occupied Austria. Magical book.
brenzi on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Torture proponents pay attention! There is an effortless way to get information; much easier than the obvious and much debated waterboarding. Stefan Zweig reveals it in his 1942 novella, the disturbing "Chess Story." This is so much more than a tale of men playing a game. Think in terms of psychological warfare and the art of destroying a person's morale. During a ship¿s voyage from New York City to Buenos Aires, it becomes known that one of the passengers is the well known chess master, Mirko Czentovik. A Scotsman decides to challenge him to a game of chess, even though Czentovic charges him $250 to play the game. As the game progresses, another passenger, Dr. B, notices the game in progress and sidles over to watch. He becomes excited at the action and quickly starts to give advice to the Scotsman that enables him to bring the game to a draw, an unheard of and totally unexpected result. Those watching the game breathlessly want Dr. B. to play Czentovik the next day. It is at this point that Dr. B reveals how he got to be such a knowledgeable chess player, even though he hasn¿t played in 25 years.Zweig has drawn an absolutely fascinating picture of psychological terror. By developing two very complicated characters in Dr. B and the withdrawn and lifeless Czentovic, the reader is immediately drawn into the story. But it is the frightening narrative described by Dr. B. that had me on the edge of my seat until the last word. A very short but extremely powerful story, one that I will not soon forget. Highly recommended.
deebee1 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
during world war II, passengers on a ship en route to Argentina discover that on board with them is a world chess champion. he is taciturn, haughty, and unfriendly but for a price, allowed himself to be challenged to a game against a wealthy passenger and some amateur chess lovers. with nary an effort on his part, his opponents lose one game to the next -- that is, until a mysterious passenger spoke up in the middle of one game telling the amateurs what moves they had to make. the game resulted in a draw -- and there the story begins. Dr. B, the mysterious man, reveals his identity to the narrator and tells him how he came to possess his extraordinary ability in the game, and the price he had to pay to gain it. therein lies the heart of this short but powerful work -- the resistance as well as the vulnerability of the human mind in the face of extreme ordeal, and how tyranny scars forever those it manages to avoid killing. spare in prose, the effect is visceral as the intense psychological drama builds up to an almost painful end. stunning and unforgettable, i highly recommend this!
kidzdoc on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The action in this novella takes place during World War II, on a cruise ship heading from NYC to Buenos Aires. On board is the world chess champion Mirko Czentovic, who is on tour to play the best chessmasters of South America. The nameless narrator is intrigued by Czentovic, a monomaniac whose aloof manner hides the fact that he is an otherwise ignorant and uneducated peasant. In an effort to meet Czentovic, the narrator plays chess with an arrogant and wealthy businessman, who ultimately persuades Czentovic to play him for money. The game is witnessed by many of the passengers, and Czentovic handily trounces the businessman in several games. However, a stranger provides tactical advice to the businessman, who manages to battle the champion to a draw. Czentovic challenges the stranger, Dr. B., to a game the following day, and the narrator is able to learn more about Dr. B's dark secret, and how he was able to match the champion even though he had not played chess in over two decades. The battle royale takes place the next afternoon, and is both a tactical and psychological battle of wills.Unfortunately this was the last published complete work by Zweig, a Jew who fled his native Austria before the Nazi occupation, and committed suicide with his wife in 1942, due to his despair with the demise of European culture under the Nazis. It is a brilliant work, and is highly recommended.
fuzzy_patters on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I would rather not go into too many details about the book because I would hate to ruin it for someone else. I will merely say that it is a meandering psychological story, reminiscent of Dostoevsky, that pits two brilliant foes against each other in a game of chess.Zweig uses the back stories of these two foes as a metaphor for his overall theme that the infinite can best be discovered by one who limits himself. This theme is also carried out through the chess board itself, which has just sixty-four squares and sixteen pieces, but has infinite permutations.
cameling on LibraryThing 8 months ago
On board a cruise ship to Argentina, a world chess champion is challenged to a game of chess by a group of amateurs. Despite his lowly background and reknown ignorance for all matters besides chess, this chess champion is arrogant and dismissive of the group, and plays only for a hefty fee. However, on a rematch, a whispering voice in the background suddenly advises the challenger on moves that take the chess champion by surprise and the 2nd game is a draw. A challenge is issued by the world chess champion to this pale stranger to a game the following day.What unfolds before this game, is the stranger's story and in it, we are introduced to another form of torture during WWII - that of mental and emotional torture when one is placed in a void, bereft of any human contact, books or even a window to look out of for mental stimulation.This is a story of the strength of one man who manages to devise a strategy to survive this mental torture, but in his triumph against his torturers he falls victim to his own device.The final chess game provides the stage for one to show mental acuity and another, the scars that never heal.
Crazymamie on LibraryThing 8 months ago
"But is it not already an insult to call chess anything so narrow as a game? Is it not also a science, an art, hovering between these categories like Mohammad's coffin between heaven and earth, a unique yoking of opposites, ancient and yet eternally new, mechanically constituted and yet an activity of imagination alone, limited to a fixed geometric area but unlimited in its permutations, constantly evolving and yet sterile, a cogitation producing nothing, a mathematics calculating nothing, an art without an artwork, an architecture without substance and yet demonstrably more durable in its essence and actual form than all books and works, the only game that belongs to all peoples and all eras, while no one knows what god put it on earth to deaden boredom, sharpen the mind, and fortify the spirit?"A world champion chess player is among the passengers on a ship traveling from New York to Buenos Aires. One of the passengers hopes to learn more about this enigmatic champion but soon discovers that the only way to observe him up close is to challenge him to a game of chess - for a price of $250 per game. Another passenger is willing to pay the fee and thus the champion, Czentovic, agrees to play against the rest of the passengers - they will be allowed ten minutes to confer for each move. After losing the first game, the passenger team is interrupted during a move in the second game by a mysterious man who appears to be just what they need - a chess master. Between the second and third games, the narrator of the story learns the backstory of the mysterious man who knows so much about chess. It turns out that he was once a prisoner of the Third Reich. How does he know so much about chess and why is he so hesitant to face the champion alone for the third game?At a mere 84 pages, this book is small, but its story is not. The writing is beautiful and will draw you in from the very first pages and keep you entranced until the last. I had not read anything by this author before, but I will be reading him again.
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Laszlo_H More than 1 year ago
I read this story ~30 years ago in Hungarian translation. I liked it so much that for years, I have been searching for the novella; I wanted to read it again in English. I wondered if it still would have the same magical, stimulating grasp on me as it did then and weather the English translation would bring out the immense depth of Zweig the same way as the excellent Hungarian translation did. Well, within the limitation of not being able to read the original German story, I must say that translation is on par with the intention of the author at least as much as it came through in the Hungarian translation. The story is as fascinating as it was for me 30 years ago. Since then, I saw a magnificent movie by Ingrid Bergman, called the "7th seal" and the main character of the book reminded me of Bergman's hero, who could almost cheat Death itself. The man in the story, who was kept in a Nazi interrogation facility, and who reluctantly learned to play chess just to keep his sanity, nearly accomplished the unthinkable..., only the psychological burden, related to the captivity prevented his ultimate success. His final chess game on an ocean liner is a symbol of humanity set up against a cold, calculating, nearly perfect machine, free of emotions and free of just about anything that makes us human. At that time, it was Nazism, you make up your mind what it would be today...