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Book review: The queen’s gambit by Walter Tevis

Book: The Queen's Gambit
Author: Walter Tevis
Genre: Fiction, psychological thriller
Rating: 5/5 
Published: 1983

From the moment I picked up Walter Tevis’ amazing novel The Queen’s Gambit, I struggled to put it back down, and ended up finishing the book in just two days, 243 pages of it. The Queen’s Gambit is a novel first published in 1983 following the life of a chess prodigy. As boring as that may sound, the words that tell the story between the front and back cover begs to differ. The novel takes place in 1950 where women are still considered to be intellectually inferior to men. Elizabeth Harmon, is both young and also female, challenging the traditional norms of society. We are first introduced to Beth at the age of eight as an orphan with the first sentence, “Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard.”

But for a moment, let’s put chess aside, and look at the story through Beth’s eyes, an eight-year-old orphan girl from Kentucky. The chaotic battlefield here, in this story is her mind. Ending up in an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth find two ways to escape her reality; first chess which is taught to her by a creepy janitor in a dark basement, and second, taking the little green pills given to her and also the other orphans, which helps keep the children tranquilized. It doesn’t take long before her genius mind is discovered while playing a game of chess. She wins her way up the rankings, earning money, beating grandmasters. Beth is smart, maybe even too smart for her own good. In a society where women are considered inferior, she doesn’t see gender, and is often frustrated about articles written about her, focusing more on her being a young woman rather than her successful chess wins. But all that aside something is missing in her life, which leaves her mind in a state of loneliness. Leading her to swallow more green pills and drink more alcohol.

There are many quotes in this book I enjoyed and choosing a favourite is difficult, however, if I was forced to choose it would be the quote where Beth said, “It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it; I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”

To those who are thinking, “do I need to be a chess fan to read this book?” The answer is no. Although, the plot takes place with a girl rising up the ranks playing chess, it is also much more than that. It is also about loss, death, rejection, addiction, and even sexism. Ergo, if you believe you can relate to even one of those emotions listed, this book is for you. That’s not to say that chess is boring. It may be for some, however Tevis brings out the excitement and dramatics of chess into this book.

The book is engaging and easy to follow with the author’s straight to the point writing, “it was six days until Thursday.” It’s a book I read once and will happily go back and read again. I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit to the point where I turned a blind eye to Beth’s gloomy future at the end of the novel. The little orphan grew up to outgrow the one thing that made her name. We may not be a prodigy but we can still understand and relate to Beth Harmon in more ways than one, which is the core of what makes this book engaging. 

You can buy your own copy on Amazon.

Poem 26: OBLIVION

A knot so tight,
Stuck in my throat,
Words of delight?
I laugh out of spite.

What do you want?
A familiar face now foreign,
Lost for meaning, judged often
By eyes that see sound, softened.

Mind so clouded,
Thoughts rushing, crowded
A parade of vivid dreams,
Strangely cheerful it seems.

Even maybe strangely sad,
Most considered it tacenda,
Broken sky leaking into meridian,
It fills us, the infinity of oblivion.

Poem 25: PEACE

It’s the little moments that matter,
The sun setting with quiet chatter,
House full of kids running, vases shatter,
Grace and golden sun rays fill,
The room until
Darkness hits again, watching it disappear, still
Behind a pointy hill,
Full of memories stolen by loneliness,
Crushed under heaviness
Of unwanted burdens.
Were you aware of,
Your ethereal kindness,
A moira swimming in a state of ataraxia
Free your heart, and the birds into the air.
You are allowed to declare,
A treaty for all hostilities to cease,
Finally, your tortured soul is at ease,
Open your chest and sing to the moon,
Your are the child of peace.

Poem 23: PUZZLE

The final piece missing,
Sunshine on her skin, kissing
Stardust stuck under her eyelids,
Humanity lacking humanity,
But I guess that’s just what life is,
Capable of destruction and terror.

The final piece missing,
Old songs on repeat, reminiscing
A chaotic goodbye, as we die inside
But who needs compassion when we have pride,
A child bride, cried
In a village that turned a blind eye,
I see humanity lacking humanity,
A reality Without any morality.

The final piece missing,
Maybe if the moon smiled,
And the world would listen,
To the sweet birds singing,
Flowers blossoming
Children laughing and playing,
Maybe then we will break our bubble,
And find love, the final piece of the puzzle.

Poem 22: TRANCEPARENCY

I howled so loud,
As they buried me,
In the cold wet ground.
Time fitted that into a palm
Distance brought distance,
In unison, so calm
Harmony, transparency,
I feel your pulse,
With such clarity,
Many masks we all hide behind,
Don’t forget eye for an eye
Will make the world go blind.
Deception, betrayal, dishonesty
The lack of transparency,
Hold me,
Beyond a skin-deep sense of self,
There’s a depth of rasasvada unusually elysian.
Make a decision,
Watch an irenic mangata
The moon reflecting on the sea
Peace simply asks for transparency.

Poem 21: CONTROL

He would join his daily coma,
On his faded old sofa,
Just like clockwork, tik tok, tik tok,
The alcohol, streaming his veins,
Tied down with ropes and chains,
I am sorry, he cries as he explains,
All the broken promises obsessively he maintains.

I stood still in my corner,
Terrified,
I stood still as days became weeks,
Weeks became months and years,
Time passed uncontrollably,
I watched and learned his behaviour,
All his techniques.
I saw empty bottles broken, so lovely,
Face pale, and drained, so ugly,
I never saw him come home early.
Until one day, he never came at all.

I’m in no need for a climax,
After a sensation of alcohol,
The trick is to relax,
I promise it’s my last drunk call.
The world is black and white,
Sometimes a little in between,
Mostly smells like piss in the alleyways,
It’s far from a pretty scene.

My hands are wrinkled,
Eyes barely see,
Hair is now grey,
But am I really free?
Time has caught up,
I am old and grown up,
Turned into my alcoholic father,
Like father like daughter,
No point in regret,
Because I can’t just pack,
And pick a time to go back.
Funky smell, jukebox, neon lights,
Vodka soda, with a bit of lime,
One thing we can’t control is time.

Poem 20: MIRROR

Do not disturb the silence,
It’s in his cage, sleeping, no violence,
He is my nightmare, my horror,
What a dark aura.
I am weak, getting weaker,
Draining my spirit, diving deeper,
I was never much of a public speaker,
More the suffer in silence,
It’s fine honestly,
Because no one is aware of my absence.
Life is spiting a cunning smile
On my face like a slap, I walk for a mile,
With a broken nose, black eye,
Bleeding lips, full of kisses saying goodbye.
But he is awakening,
Digging, and chewing the cage, I’m listening.
Stop him. Please, stop him.
But my odds are slim,
I don’t know what I will face,
I am petrified, is there simply no way to erase,
The past, my memories or this place?
I cry, without shoulders to cry on,
I scream; however, no soul hears,
I am all alone,
Sitting in a dark room,
At least I’ve got a throne,
Finally, the cage unleashes my biggest fear,
Before me it stands so dear,
It’s dark, chill hits down my spine,
It’s presence far from divine.
I see myself, it’s a mirror,
A pale face, and dry lips, bitter,
I feel a cold weight in my hand.
We both have a weapon, a pistol,
BAM! Unheard words, so wistful.

Poem 19: UTOPIA

We are the brain cells,
Of a nine-year-old boy,
His imagination with deep wells and spells.
There is no reality, in this reality,
It’s full of faceless eyes.
Synthetic lips, cursed with sanity,
Insanity, sanity people so concerned for morality,
Yet their hypocrisy, hurts my chest
A dead utopia, dust and a quest.
Full of lawless streets but I am free,
Lawless streets with nobody,
Lawless streets and a smiling cat,
Singing from a tree, just like LSD.
This is the dead utopia,
All you people fear,
Because our existence only exists,
As long as this boy is asleep and unaware.

Poem 18: HEARTBREAK

A green uniform complementing,
your pale soft skin,
A war you’re assenting,
The return date unknown,
I release my last pleasurable moan,
Before I am once again alone.

But my love, do you not know?
That I am soft for this world, sensitive.
My heart shatters with a touch,
More delicate than thin glass.

I lay on dry grass,
Wait for the endless time to pass,
Heavenly kiss is felt on my cheek,
Somehow a sense of loss,
Everything seems so bleak.

Tears soaked by a folded flag,
Handed by a proud naïve young man,
“HE WAS A HERO”, they all brag.
The colours; red, white and blue,
On my wall, what a view…

The saddest feeling is loss,
The loss of my path,
My past,
My love,
My future.
The loss of myself,
I wade into the woods,
So much greenery,
But all I see is machinery,
Bombs and tanks,
Greedy men drinking wine on their thrones.

You were the beauty in all my chaos,
Hopeless dreams I embrace,
A hole in my chest, wide open
It’s heavy, my heart is broken.

Poem 17: CHAOS

The fires we start, flames flicker, leaves burn,
A life is thriving in a bedroom filled
With echoes of fairy tales,
A thunder, a storm, ready to return,
To the land destroyed by men holding their ales.

The devils continue making deals,
Horses all scared, hitting their heels,
The mother of all existence,
Humans capturing their pathos,
The core of life can be found,
In the comfort of chaos.

Can you taste the bitterness in the air?
Once again lost, a scary sunset,
Stars glimmering somewhere.
Place your expectations on the table,
We have guests, wait, be patient.

Conversations blurred,
My screams were unheard,
My mind losing track of every word,
The creatures are now sharpening their claws,
They are smart, wild, exiled,
Who are you kidding? They have no laws.
Through the silent streets they crawl.

I wake up from this nightmare,
Will somebody finally care,
I wake up from a nightmare,
wishing I’m in a pretty castle somewhere,
I am stuck in darkness, cold air,
In a special place for the outcast,
Limbo, a chaos of my past.