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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 finds 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.

The odd things you remember when you’re watching someone die.

Photo credit: manyfires 

‘It’s odd, the things you remember when you’re watching someone die.’ I thought to myself, as I looked at his grey face in sorrow. His expression was confused, and his face was thin. There was no trace left from his once red cheeks. It almost felt like I was staring at a zombie with the eyes of a dead fish. Cancer is a dreadful disease. It robs you of your beauty, energy, youth, time, and your life.

I was so lost in my chain of thoughts, that his rough husky voice had to bring me back to reality. I apologised. “I remembered the time you taught me how to make a swing for my toys as a kid.” I said as an explanation to where my mind had drifted off to.

We sat together side by side in peaceful silence, both reminiscing my childhood mainly. The room was bright and white, just like any other ordinary hospital room. It was a bitter sweet moment. As we knew the sense of defeat was knocking on his door. There’s no cure for death, so we should in reality just accept it and welcome it.

Death is a part of life. Often, we are taught that it’s the opposite of life, but they could not be further from the truth. I always wondered why we are never taught to get ready for something which every soul will taste at one point. Then, it occurred to me that humans have a tendency to avoid what they do not understand and what they fear. As if avoiding something and merely pretending the lack of its existence will lead it to go away. It’s a hard reality to get used to, that the world does not wait for anyone. That it will simply continue to turn with or without you and no pain nor yearn will stop it. 

We fear death for its unknown future, it’s such a complex topic to be able to comprehend. Thinking about it can even alter your reality. Ergo, its understandable why we choose to avoid the subject instead. However, acceptance of a matter or event which you do not possess the power to change, can and will reduce suffering. As it allows you to look fear itself in the eyes without flinching.

I believe once you are face to face with death, all your worries, ego and petty dramas are dropped into the depths of the ocean. It humbles you almost, and stops you to end up with piles of regrets of things that needed to be said and people to be loved, things to be done. 

We all know who alexander the great is, what you may not know is after conquering many kingdoms, he was finally returning home. On his journey he became unwell and this illness dragged him to his death bed. With death staring him in the face, he realised how his conquests, his great army, his sword and all his wealth were of no consequence. He now longed to reach home to see his mother’s face and bid her his last adieu. But he had to accept the fact that his sinking health would not permit him to reach his homeland. So, the mighty conqueror lay prostrate and pale, helplessly waiting to breathe his last. 

He called his generals and said, “I will depart from this world soon, I have three wishes, please carry them without fail.” With tears flowing down their cheeks, the generals agreed to abide by their king’s last wishes. 

“my first desire is that, my physicians alone must carry my coffin. Secondly, I desire that when my coffin is being carried to the grave the path leading to the graveyard be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones which I have collected in my treasury.” After a moment of pause due to exhaustion he continued. “My third and last wish is that both my hand be kept dangling out of my coffin.”

The people who had gathered there wondered at the king’s strong wishes. But no one dared bring the question to their lips.  Alexander’s favourite general kissed his hand and pressed it to his heart. “Oh king, we assure you that all your wishes will be fulfilled. But tell us why do you make such strange wishes?”

At this alexander took a deep breath and said, “I would like the world to know the three lessons I have just learnt. I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realise no doctor on this earth can cure death. They are powerless when it comes to saving someone from the clutches of death. The second wish of strewing riches on the path to the graveyard is to tell people that no amount of wealth will save me nor come with mw. I spent my life with the greed of power earning fortune but I cannot take it with me. Let people realise it is a waste of time to chase wealth. About my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I wish people to know that I came to this world empty handed and empty handed I shall go.” With these words the king closed his eyes, soon he let death conquer him and breathed his last.

With this story I want to add that there is birth which is the beginning and there is death, the end but we often forget there is also everything that happens in between, and that is life. Time is precious and death is inevitable. Yet, death is easy and, in some cases, pretty rapid, the main challenge is to live. To live life without fear and accepting death as a part of life.  

As a society we need to stop sweeping the topic of death under a rug. No one wants to think about it now. Why? I would even go as far as to argue it’s one of the most important things to think about.

The talk of religion has been a debate for centuries and probably will be for centuries to come. However, there is no real evidence of an afterlife realistically. There is however, only faith. I sure am one of them who believes in an afterlife. The idea of imaging yourself to never exist and simply rotting six feet underground is scary. But, rather the idea of never existing is difficult for me to fully comprehend. 

One day, you too will close your eyes to this world. All your belongings, possessions and even your last pennies in your bank will no longer matter. It will not exist. It may pass down to your next of kin, you will no longer own them nor will you really be needing them.

Yet, the scariest aspect of death for me is all your memories and knowledge fading. The thought of this truly breaks my heart. It makes you ask the oldest question known to humanity, “what is the meaning of life.”

From the beginning of time, every event that happened, every moment that occurred from the speed of the wind to the rain falling from the sky, happened and it brought you into existence. The butterfly effect. Did it all happen by chance or on purpose? Will you ever be able to find the answer to these questions? Probably not, but the journey to finding these answers will be a hell of an adventure.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain.

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 24: AIR

Pressing pause on life,
Waters crystal clear, no strife
Sun rays blossoming with kisses,
Some souls bored some in dreamy blisses.
Words hanging down my mouth,
Disappears with the gust,
Over spilled sinful lust.
Herbs I inhale, bring paranoia and fear
Trick is to relax and keep your mind clear,
Enjoy the world speak to you,
I have reached a bizarre epiphany,
You are my serendipity.
A deep voice so arcane,
Lost in onism, wishing for rain.
A touch of skin, entwined fingers and hair,
Your breath is my air.

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 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.