Vienna 1770: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen unveils a strange and amazing invention, the Mechanical Turk, a sensational and unbeatable chess-playing automaton. But what the Habsburg court hails as the greatest innovation of the century is really nothing more than a brilliant illusion. The chess machine is secretly operated from inside by the Italian dwarf Tibor, a God-fearing social outcast whose chess-playing abilities and diminutive size make him the perfect accomplice in this grand hoax.
Von Kempelen and his helpers tour his remarkable invention all around Europe to amaze and entertain the public, but despite many valiant attempts and close calls, no one is able to beat the extraordinary chess machine. The crowds all across Europe adore the Turk, and the success of Baron von Kempelen seems assured. But when a beautiful and seductive countess dies under mysterious circumstances in the presence of the automaton, the Mechanical Turk falls under a cloud of suspicion, and the machine and his inventor become the targets of espionage, persecution, and aristocratic intrigue. What is the dark secret behind this automaton and what strange powers does it hold? The Chess Machine is a daring and remarkable tale, based on a true story, full of envy, lust, scandal and deception.
On an anonymous November day in the year 1769 Tibor Scardanelli had woken up
in a windowless prison cell, with encrusted blood on his swollen face and a
splitting headache. He groped in vain for a jug of water in the dim light. The
reek of alcohol on his ragged clothes turned his stomach. He dropped back on the
straw mattress and leaned against the cold lead of the wall. Certain experiences
in his life were obviously bound to recurhe was destined to be cheated,
robbed, beaten, arrested, and left to starve.
On the previous evening the dwarf had been playing chess for money in a tavern, and he spent his first winnings on brandy instead of a proper meal. So he was already drunk when the young merchant challenged him to play for a stake of two guilders. Tibor was winning the game easily, but when he bent to pick up a dropped coin, the Venetian put his queen back on the board, although she had been taken long ago. Tibor protested, but the ...
Although the pacing is slow at times and some parts could have been trimmed without loss to the main flow, there is much to enjoy in The Chess Machine. We experience moments of high drama and humor, sometimes on the same page; swordfights and court intrigues; plus a growing tension as we come to know and care for the big hearted man inside the little body who has only his faith to hang on to as he is drawn further and further into Kempelen's deception and delusions of grandeur.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (909 words).
Chess is thought to have originated in northern
India or Afghanistan. The
earliest written references are
from around 600 AD but there is
some evidence that the game
could have existed as early as
100 AD. Interest in chess spread
along the trade routes from
India, with different
variations found in
different countries, such as
Shogi in Japan and Xiangqi in
The variation known to Europeans and Americans today (Western Chess or International Chess) traveled through Iran to ...
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