100 Essential Books – Secrets Of The Chess Machine – Robert Lohr (2007)

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chessThis is an outstanding debut novel. Translated from German by Anthea Bell. Wolfgang Van Kempelen a minor member of the Eighteenth Century Austrian court promises the Empress a chess-playing automaton. Despite amazing mechanical advances such a thing is not possible and the inventor resorts to fraud and the use of Tibor, a dwarf secreted inside the machine. The premise of this novel is based on fact and both machine and inventor became a sensation. It’s a tale of deception, of smoke and mirrors and you don’t have to be a chess player to enjoy it. I loved the characterisation and found it totally involving and gripping as Von Kempelen has to go to greater and greater lengths to keep his deception a secret. If you want to read probably the best chess-themed novel ever, look no further! Lohr, a writer and notable German puppeteer, has to date written five novels, this seems to be the only one available in translation. This book certainly deserves a wider English-speaking audience to boost the demand for more of his work to become available.

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