Leo Benedictus

See You in Hell, Chess Player

The Secrets of the Chess Machine

By

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

    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,
    • Here's @epkaufm's Whiteshift, reviewed in this month's magazine by ,