Summary and book reviews of The Chess Machine by Robert Lohr

The Chess Machine

A Novel

By Robert Lohr

The Chess Machine
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2007,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2008,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Venice: 1769

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 recur—he 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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews
Washington Post - Ron Charles

Despite the excitement and the humor, a surprising poignancy runs beneath this story. Löhr never weighs down The Chess Machine with any ponderous meditation, but he keeps hinting at the harrowing implications of modernity, the metaphysical effect of our technological illusions.

Publishers Weekly

Though the narrative could use a light pruning, Löhr's eye for period detail and cast of eccentrics create an immersive and mirthful experience.

Kirkus Reviews

Rich in detail and psychological depth, this historical novel of 18th-century Europe has plenty of contemporary resonance for American readers.

Neue Westfalische (Germany)

Lohr's historical novel is an exciting story, splendidly entertaining and with a great deal to say - about men and women who rise above their limitations and surpass themselves, and about the entire spectrum of human passions.

Das Leipziger Stadtmagazin (German)

In loving detail, Lohr presents the decadent scene of the ancien regime with everything that is a part of it: court intrigues, freemasons, courtesans, seances. It is all reminiscent of Patrick Suskind's mega-successful Perfume.

Figaro (France)

A master stroke ... [A] breathtaking narrative .... With a talent worthy of the best authors of this genre, Robert Lohr creates a tight-knit story where intrigue, treason, and traps of all kinds keep readers at the edge of their seats .... The formidable intrigue is built like a chess game. But the protagonists are far from being simple pawns; they are finely crafted characters who make The Chess Machine a powerful thriller about a madman's path.

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Beyond the Book

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 China.

The variation known to Europeans and Americans today (Western Chess or International Chess) traveled through Iran to ...

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