Monday, October 04, 2010

Book Review: "The Chess Machine"

[Yesterday morning I was partway through three books. By the time I went to bed I had finished each of them, and since I'm sidelined today with a nasty sore throat, here's the final review before I go off to make the tough decisions about what to read next (and to make a cup of tea)]

Robert Löhr's The Chess Machine (translated from the German by Andrea Bell and published by Penguin in 2007) is a fictionalized version of the story of the Mechanical Turk, a historical hoax produced by Wolfgang von Kempelen and exhibited around Europe in the final decades of the 18th century (and extant until 1854, when it was destroyed in a Philadelphia fire). While we don't know too much at all about the original operator of the Turk, Löhr has given us a character in the person of Tibor, an Italian dwarf plucked from jail by Kempelen and effectively held hostage as the Turk's inner workings.

Tibor, von Kempelen, and the erstwhile assistant Jakob soon discover that their secret is going to be a tough one to keep hidden, and that the steps they have to take to keep the Turk in operation might be troubling ones.

I enjoyed this book; the story held my interest, the writing was excellent, and the way Löhr manages to turn the narrative itself into a very complicated chess match was very well done.

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