Quite recently, I suffered through what I refer as ‘the longest reading slump‘ period, for about three months. That is when a good friend of mine suggested Chess Story by Stefan Zweig. To be honest, he sold it hard and it took me a while to pick the book. But boy, was I surprised!
About Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
Book Name: Chess Story
Author: Stefan Zweig
Genre: Fiction – Classics, Historical
Characters: Mirko Czentovič, Dr. B
Setting: Argentina, Austria
Plot Summary of Chess Story
Chess Story begins with the narrator, an Austrian, boarding the ship that travels from New York to Buenos Aires. On board is, Czentovic, the World Chess Champion who spends his time challenging the other travelers in a game of chess and earning a bit of money. The passengers come together to play against him and still lose.
We learn about Czentovic’s humble beginning and how he reaches his heights by sheer brute force and hard-work. He is unapologetic, unfriendly and boorish. He understands what is at stake when he plays every game and plays to show off his supremacy over the game.
During one of such games in the afternoon, a mystery man called Mr. B manages to help the group win an upset against Czentovic. Mr. B is a noble Jewish banker who is humbled by his wartime experiences.
During the World War II, he was restrained by the Gestapos him between the walls of his cell, interrogating for information regarding the wealth of his clients, his only companion being a stolen anthology of 150 chess games. He reads and memorizes the moves and that became obsession later mania to get him through his period of imprisonment. Intrigued and miffed by Mr. B’s act, Czentovic challenges him to play the royal game against him. which forms the rest of the story.
Book review of Chess Story
I sure hoped for Mr. B to win the game with his ingenuity and supreme intelligence, against the unfriendly and boorish World Champion – you know ‘let the underdog win’ argument?
But I would just warn you already, prepare for the twist and a depressing ending. I think it is now safe to inform the author committed suicide just weeks after he finished the novella. So be warned.
Someone said that the mark of a good book is it changes every time you read. I can safely say Chess Story is definitely one of such books.
For someone who reads the book for the first time, it is a story between the blacks and whites of Chess Story board, where there are no grey shades. The hard work vs the tacts. The lyrical prose, despite being a translated work, will make you compelled to read it again and it being just an 84 paged novella would help.
But sometime during my second reading (shortly after Christmas, yeah just days before this review), I found another layer unraveling itself. It became more than the game, but of the personalities that clashed between. Zweig’s understanding of human nature is spot on.
And knowing about his death made it all the more difficult to digest the ending, despite knowing what was going to happen.
I cannot gush enough about Chess Story and I have recommended the book to many people now. If you want to move on to literary fiction but do not know where to start, or want to read something that would not put you off those kinda books – Chess Story is your answer.
It is, for me, a perfect novella with complex characters and a beautiful prose.
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Dystopia has never been my preferred genre, thanks to the very many badly written YA literature strewn around the world that befalls into the said genre. Yet there were several times while I read the book The Handmaid’s Tale that I had to recheck the publishing date.
About The handmaid’s tale
Book Name: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction – Literary Dystopia
Characters: Offred, The Commander, Serena Joy, Nick, Moira
Plot Summary of The handmaid’s tale
Set in not so distant dystopian future, women have lost all that they won in the recent past, at least partially – the ability to chose what they wore, what they did for life or even handle money. They are forbidden from reading, writing and even speaking freely.
Their existence is based on their functionality – the wives (in charge of the household), the helps (Marthas), the teachers (Aunts), the wombs (Handmaids), the sexual toys ( Jezebels) and the outcasts (Unwoman) are sent to Colonies where they are left to harvest cotton or clean up the radioactive waste.
Offred, our narrator, a handmaid belongs to Fred, who is on her third and final attempt to conceive a child with a government appointed ‘Commander.’ Every month she has an impersonal intercourse with the Commander and his wife, who is barren.
She had had a child with her husband Luke (a divorcée from his previous wife), before she became Offred and before her marriage was declared void. Everything changed overnight. Money was replaced, women were declared to belong to their men and were offered ‘safety’ and ‘respect’ than they were in the free modern world.
She is desperate to figure what happened to her family, to know what is happening in the world outside the wall, to read write and just to live. She is given a friend Ofglen, who is accountable for Offred’s actions while she runs errands and her for Ofglen.
Offred falls for Nick, the Guardian for the commander, a crime that could lead them both to be publicly hung. Was the risk worth taking? Did she learn anything about her family? Read to know more.
A personal note
Written in the 1980s and still, it has not lost its relevance may reason out why the book is called a classic. If anything, The handmaid’s tale has become more and more pertinent today, given the current world scenario. I hail from a nation where rape seems to the screaming weekly headline, where feminism is more or less a topic for the keyboard warriors and reservation and rationing are the only ways to go by.
Incidentally, I live in a country which believes in ‘respecting’ women, ‘saving’ them from men, yet are not allowed to make decisions about their unborn fetus. There are nations where women are not even allowed to drive or make a visit to the mall without a proper chaperon. Let us not forget the wall that our dear Mr. Trump has promised to build to protect us from the immigrants and the religious terrorism he is raging against.
You guessed it right, every one of these actions is a fragment of imagination that Margret Atwood takes us through in her novel. And you know what? Somehow we are all conditioned to living and adapting to these rules, that we no longer think that we are complying with them but accepting them as the way of life. Yes, I no longer feel The Handmaid’s Tale is a far-fetched work of fiction.
Book review of The handmaid’s tale
The Handmaid’s Tale might be a little hard to get into, yet once you are into it, you can not stop it. I started reading the book and heard the rest of it when I was out and about living my life because I could not put it down.
The narration is not linear, there are places where you might be confused, especially at the initial parts, but it will grow on you. And oh, I loved the emphasis thrown on the importance of the written and spoken word in creating a new world, as any bibliophile would.
And my dear grammar nazis, yes there are a lot of commas, quotes and other generic rules that are broken, but somehow it works. In fact they make it better. (Mother Earth can swallow me). There are too many seemingly simple lines that make them powerful quotes for that very reason. The ambiguous ending works so well that I cannot stop pondering over.
I am yet to watch Hulu’s take on the book as a TV series, but it is on my to-do list (update: done and I loved it) . You can not read The Handmaid’s Tale as a breeze through the weekend read. You can not unsee once you have been to the Republic of Gilead and not relate it to the real world.
If you are one of those who gets offended by the term ‘feminism,’ read the book with an open mind. Given the current state of chaos we live in you will relate to it.
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Can you name one book that you love with all your heart and would not mind recommending it to any one, regular readers or not? For me it would be A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain. Care to read why I love it so much? Read on.
About A Dog’s Tale
Title: A Dog’s Tale
Author: Mark Twain
Genre: Fiction – Classics
Setting: The USA, 1995
Plot Summary of A Dog’s Tale
Aileen Mavourneen has a St. Bernard for his dad and Collie for his mom and he is a Presbyterian according to his mom. Yes, she is the pup that we all want around – the high energy, chirpy, loyal and happy pup. The story takes us through her life as a pup to being a mom and eventually her death.
She learns and lives according to her mom’s advises, after she was given for adoption. She is loved by her new family and their servants. One fateful night she rescues the infant from fire and misunderstood by the dad that she hurt the baby, who hurts Aileen’s leg injuring permanently.
Once her heroic deed is recognized by the family, she becomes the pride of the house and shown off to every visitor. Ironically, whenever someone enquires about her limp, the family turns silent and never accepting the dad’s mistake in judgement. Eventually Aileen becomes a mother and the puppy grows up with the same love and affection from the family that Aileen does.
The dad invites his other scientist friends over, while his family leaves on a holiday. The friends conduct an experiment on Aileen’s pup, killing it. Aileen doesn’t understand what had happened but thinks her kid would grow up from where he was buried, just like the seed the family planted in the garden. She dies due to the disappointment of losing her pup.
Book review of A Dog’s Tale
The short story is so well written that I can relate the characters (dogs or not) to people from real life – be it, Aileen or Aileen’s mother or the family members. I loved the confidence and drive to be better in Aileen’s mother, and I could actually visualize people who make up words on the go and make a stand that they were true just like her.
Yes Aileen was a Presbyterian according to her. But hey, she brought up her pup alright.
Things that worked out for me
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. – Mark Twain.
Now Mark Twain is the writer who stood by his words. In just 52 pages, he conveyed all he had to say and stole my heart just the way only he can. (In fact, he makes me abandon the thought that “I will be able to write, someday”).
He pointed out the extremities between the thoughtlessness cruelty and selfishness of men and the pure love, trust and loyalty of the animals towards humans. I might be giving it too much thought, but just hear me out, I couldn’t help but to think the author showed us all that is right and fair in the world through Aileen and that’s not with the inhumane humans.
I hated the dad to the core – yes I am over reacting. But you know what, the world is filled with ‘the dad’s. They are thoughtless, ready to jump onto their guns, selfish and they never acknowledge their mistakes. And we are supposed to accept that because ‘such is the human nature!’, I hear.
Things that didn’t work for me
Usually I have a paragraph to write on things I didn’t like in the book, but I just could not find any. Yeah I can hear you saying “Gal, you are dealing with Mark Twain here, and you think you can find out something that you don”t like”.
But if you know me, I will always find a thing or two to crib about most books. Right, I didn’t find any and in fact I am going to defend the writer. There are readers who find the ending upsetting – it is but I think life is upsetting as well.
And some reading into wiki shows Twain was an animal lover as well and he republished the story to support Anti-Vivisection Law (which stands against experimentation on animals and animal cruelty on the whole) in 1920s. So haters, hold it right there.
My thoughts in general
On a personal note, coming from a dog loving family which had more than its fair share of dogs in the past 3 decades, I couldn’t stop comparing Aileen to every one of the doggies we had had. I remembered our Sheeba for the happy go lucky puppy she was, or Whitey (my first dog) who jumped from the sun shade of our portico to catch a thief (or so I have heard).
Oh how could I forget the day when I had to help my dad bury Caeser and then go to school as if nothing had happened, knowing well that I won’t be seeing him that evening when I returned. Thank you A Dog’s Tale for bringing back all these bittersweet memories.
If you are an animal lover looking for a short read, look no further A Dog’s Tale is for you. Even if you are not an animal lover (gasp!) you will like this one anyway!
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