Leo Benedictus

See You in Hell, Chess Player

The Secrets of the Chess Machine


Fig Tree 344pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

In 1770, the court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary was held spellbound by the first demonstration of the Turk, a revolutionary automaton which could not only play chess against a human opponent, but usually won. Soon afterwards, however, the machine’s creator, Wolfgang von Kempelen, became strangely reluctant to exhibit it, and the Turk was not seen again until it returned for a triumphal tour of Europe in 1783. Only many years after Kempelen’s death was the machine’s secret revealed: it had been a dwarf in a box all along.

And now it is around these threads of history that the journalist and screenwriter Robert Löhr has chosen to weave his first novel, which was published in German last year and now appears in a translation by Anthea Bell. In Löhr’s imagined version of events, the tale begins when Tibor, an itinerant dwarf and chess genius, is thrown into prison on a trumped-up charge. He is visited in his cell by the mysterious Kempelen, who offers him a job as the brains inside the Turk.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,