Modern Art and Old Titles

Modern art is really not my thing, however I will turn my hand to anything, and the result is about as on par with the other nonsense that graces popular galleries, so I will be accepting bids for this one starting at £20,000.

The one armed doll is a metaphor, please add appropriate £ value.

In other news, I have been gathering up the books of late and am now looking forward to reading some more eclectic and obscurer works to go with the madern titles that are more familiar.

In the future expect to see reviews for such travel books as Lord Dufferin‘s Letters from High Latitudes, more Indian works including, A History if Indian Literature, and A History of Indian Railways, thanks to our respective countries’ ties. And I’ll throw in The History of Chess for good measure.

Another geographic area that fascinates is Polynesia, so I’m pleased to have my grubby hands on Legends of Ma-ui: A Demi God of Polynesia.  And finally, to round off the southern hemisphere jaunts, and perhaps unsurprisingly I have also procured, Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society, and Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino.

My quest to vary my reading matter, and to push myself ever onward to new, fascinating, and perhaps undeservedly forgotten books will continue constantly, and I hope you will join me in these ventures, and perhaps suggest any fascinating titles you come across on your own reading journey.  The stranger, the better.

The Luzhin Defense – Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s third novel, The Defense, is a chilling story of obsession and madness. As a young boy, Luzhin was unattractive, distracted, withdrawn, sullen–an enigma to his parents and an object of ridicule to his classmates. He takes up chess as a refuge from the anxiety of his everyday life. His talent is prodigious and he rises to the rank of grandmaster–but at a cost: in Luzhin’s obsessive mind, the game of chess gradually supplants the world of reality. His own world falls apart during a crucial championship match, when the intricate defense he has devised withers under his opponent’s unexpected and unpredictable lines of assault.

You would have thought he’d opt for a winnin’ defence!  Now that bad, not to mention obvious and cringeworthy joke is out of the way, I’ll leave the comedy and your tolerance in peace.

This being one of Nabakov’s earlier works, there are hints of the writer he would later become; with some wonderful prose in places, that demands the reader savour such lines appreciatively.

Like Stefan Zweig’s Chess, The Luzhin Defense is a fascinating leap into the mind (and abstract genius) of a grandmaster, with its sad but gripping descent into madness.  In this case we see the beginnings in his formative years, a lonely, tortured child unable to integrate with his peers and family who comes across the game and becomes seduced by the simplicity and more importantly the complexity of the it.

Luzhin is a closed, provocative character and very hard to like to begin with, although I softened up to him quickly, he is exhausting, uncommunicative, both annoying and likeable, and absurd.  Without this earlier connect to his childhood I probably would have become frustrated with the direction of the man over time and certainly a lot less sympathetic to him. Continue reading “The Luzhin Defense – Vladimir Nabokov”

Chess – Stefan Zweig

The other day I finished The man Who Loved Dogs, of which a review will be forthcoming soon but upon finishing said book and being impressed by it, everything else on the shelves seemed a little less exciting.  With a day out with mates on the cards – which means getting to a meeting place at least five hours early to read – I needed something to occupy myself.  So I finally decided to reread a couple of novellas, the first of which, being this slinky effort.

Chess-mondoTravelers by ship from New York to Buenos Aires find that on board with them is the world champion of chess, an arrogant and unfriendly man. They come together to try their skills against him and are soundly defeated. Then a mysterious passenger steps forward to advise them and their fortunes change. How he came to possess his extraordinary grasp of the game of chess and at what cost lie at the heart of Zweig’s story.

At 78 pages you wouldn’t think that this story would contain much in the way of depth but despite the length or lack of, it’s thinness is at odds with its surprisingly weighty subject matter.

The challenge of writing a review for such a short book is a bit like a game of Chess itself, both have limits, for one it’s 64 black and white squares and for the other, allowing only a certain amount of information to escape the review without spoiling anything important for the reader.  Both are fascinating pursuits, whose limits belie the ridiculous amount of depth involved and an infinitely malleable ability with which to play with.

Chess can be read as a straight forward story of two men squaring off against each other in an epic battle to decide who wins between these two polar opposite (in all ways) opponents.  It’s not just the colour of their chess pieces that differs, there is a clash of experiences, styles and mindset, as well as histories and motivations that are completely different and their only shared desire being the extreme obsession to win.

Naturally there is substance to the tale than that, Zweig wrote this book at a time when Hitler was busy conquering Europe and although he escaped to the Americas, his disgust and sadness at seeing the events unfolding eventually lead to the author and his wife’s suicide shortly after this book was first published.  There is certainly a feeling in the prose of the profound effect of surviving,  coupled with that of despair as well, with a lack of anything approaching real redemption. Continue reading “Chess – Stefan Zweig”

Between a Rook and a Hard Place

“Chess is mental torture” – Garry Kasparov

“Checkers is for tramps” – Paul Morphy

Chess art 9

The noble art of Chess, is one I haven’t indulged in for many a year, until recently when I found I had it on the laptop all along,  I’m a bit slow like that.  These last few days I have been satiating a long forgotten love for the game and reminding myself of the ridiculous amount of complexities surrounding it.

There are many reasons why I adore this pastime, the rules that are simple to master hiding the detailed intricacies and endlessly fascinating nature of it, its graceful flow and brutal takings of the various pieces.  There is risk involved of course, the press makes a big thing of a few of the grand masters going insane, so I like to think I am on the threshold of madness.  I like the drama.

To combine psychology, logic, intuition and creativity into a simple game is probably something that won’t happen much in this age of fast thrills and non stop, wall to wall repetitive noise, so it’s nice to kick back with those 64 squares, a board you have to control knowing that any mistakes are all your own doing and adapting your game plan as you go is key to success. Continue reading “Between a Rook and a Hard Place”