A friend of mine, who is a chess fanatic, has been trying to goad me into learning the royal game, but I have been putting it off. I dont know why exactly, but the older I get, I just cant be arsed to learn new things; in particular things that involve putting in mental labour.
But that is not why I picked up this book. This is a portrayal of genius, albeit of a kind of sports (in this case chess) which I know nothing about. Pardon me then if my review is ill-informed but portrayal of genius intrigue me. Thomas Bernhard take on genius in The Loser
...was provocative and rather dark, Zweig explores a different kind of genius - the kind of genious that has often bothered me, which is: how somebody can be a genius in sports or art in their respective field and yet be, in terms of other aspect of the human mind, completely
...dim, ignoramous and dull. For example, you hear some of the greats of the game of cricket analyze the game in commentary, and often wonder how these actual geniuses of the game be so tone-deaf and intellectually challenged in explaining the game itself, or putting together
...a basic thought about life.
Zweig's genius is a Yugoslavian Chess Champion, who though unbeatable at the game, is so dim, socially challenged, greedy and intellectually bankrupt that he avoids most human interactions, avoids the media and fans and antagonizes people with
..rudeness and disdain; until one day, on a week long ship journey to South American, he comes across another Chess Maestro with a troubled past and a trouble mind (having shunned the game 20 years ago as a result of trauma and torture) who gives him a run for his money;
...literally, that is, since the Yugoslav wont play anyone if they dont pay him per game.
It is a novella. Not long. So we cut to the chase without wasting much time: an epic battle of wits and nerve between two contrasting but diametrically opposed kind of genius.
Zweig was an Austrian jew who left his native Vienna just before the rise of Hitler and Nazism. He fled to and settled down in Brazil where he and his wife killed themselves in 1942 and this was apparently his last work,so it must have meant a lot to him.
I have only just discovered Zweig but he was, I have learned,one of the most popular writers of 1920s and 1930s, and having read him some more,I can see why. His is traditional old school European story-telling but gets right down to the heart of it with his sparse crisp writing.
I would also recommend his short story collection (Letters from an Unknown Woman) - which I hope I will review soon.
Solid 4 out of 5 NaPoha stars.