Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Review of "The Queen's Gambit" by Walter Tevis
A friend whose literary opinions I respect suggested that I would enjoy Walter Tevis' classic novel, "The Queen's Gambit." That friend could not have been more correct. What a fascinating work. It is a coming of age tale that tells the story of an American orphan girl who learns to play chess in stolen hours in the basement of the orphanage where she is held in check. Her tutor is the taciturn janitor. It becomes clear that she is a prodigy. As a 12-year old, she is finally adopted by a dysfunctional couple who separate permanently within hours after Elizabeth Harmon arrives in her new home. He adoptive mother, Mrs. Wheatley, does her best to encourage Beth's chess career - primarily because they need the winnings to cover living expenses.
Along the way, Beth develops into a world class chess player, finding mentors, studying the history of the game, battling the prejudices of the all-male enclave that is the world of serious chess. She learns to see the chess board as intersecting lines of force. In her own life, she tries hard to gain mastery over intersecting forces - drug and alcohol abuse, a distrustful nature, shyness, fear of the future and a sense of wonder at how high she can climb up the ladder in the kingdom of chess.
The book is deeply moving, and although I am not by any means an expert in chess, following her progression through specific tournament games was fascinating to me.