Shades of Lasker

The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A NovelFor the chess players among his readers, Michael Chabon’s latest novel has an irresistable start (and indeed, upon reading the first two sentences of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,  I immediately had to purchase it because I wasn’t about to stand there in the store and read all 414 pages):  “Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.  Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.” 

Lasker was the second world champion, and he held onto the crown for a record twenty-seven years, from 1894 to 1921.  I write of Lasker in my own book, King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, because he famously spoke of chess as a rare bastion of trutha sentiment that unconsciously drew me to the game as a child:

“On the chess board, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long.  The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.  Our little chess is one of the sanctuaries where this principle of justice has occasionally had to hide.” 

Lasker further claimed that chess was not merely a substitute for life but a way of rekindling interest in the larger world: 

“Many a man, struck by injustice as, say, Socrates and Shakespeare were struck, has found justice realized on the chessboard, and has thereby recovered his courage and his vitality to play the game of life.”

As I get further along in Chabon’s novel, I’ll let you know how he weaves chess and Emanuel Lasker into it.

2 Responses to “Shades of Lasker”

  1. chessloser Says:

    nice review, i will now buy that book. i really liked summerland, as much as i don’t care about baseball, the book was so well written, i almost wanted to start watching baseball. i was a bit let down with kavalier and clay, although a good story, just didn’t do it for me. i wasn’t sure i wanted to read the yiddish policeman, i figured i wouldn’t, but now that i know it has chess, and based off your review, i will probably read it. good review, thanks…

  2. Howard Goldowsky Says:

    Unfortunately, the post I made yesterday seems to have gotten lost in cyberspace, so I’ll try again. What I wrote, basically, was that unlike you, Paul, I did manage to be foolish enough to stand in the store like an idiot and go through the whole book — I didn’t read the whole thing (of course), but I did spend the good part of a half hour perusing. My impression was that chess plays a major role in the beginning of the book, tails off after the first few chapters, then comes back again at the end. As I’m not a Chabon fan, it wasn’t enough chess for me to part with $26. It was, however, enough chess for the book’s inclusion into my chess fiction bibliography.

    (It was at this point in my lost post when I plugged my new book and its 84-entry chess fiction bibliography, but due to the small possibility of devine disapproval of such a shameless plug, and subsequent devine intervention with previously mentioned lost post, I’ll hold off on the plug until later. I’d like to see this post survive.)

    It would be great, Paul, if you blogged more about chess fiction. It’s a topic that interests me too. All too often chess is misrepresented in fiction, or it’s dealt with in an all too cliche manner.

    Howard Goldowsky

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