Friday, June 03, 2005

Sosonko, Genna. Russian silhouettes. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2001. 206pp.

Chess books are boring, right? Dry tomes of bloodless strategic meanderings, chicken-scratch game scores and endless puzzles which no one can ever seem to be able to solve. There's some truth to that characterization, certainly. Even the best books on playing chess are going to be a bit lacking in the narrative drive of a good thriller. Sure, some have a bit of humour or combine the medicine with a few good stories, but in general, not really best seller material.

There are, of course, exceptions. And this is definately one of them. Genna Sosonko is an ex-pat Russian grandmaster living in Holland, who left Russian during the Soviet era. This books is made up of a series of biographical essays on various players from the Soviet era, most notably Botvinnik and Tal but also other including Levenfish, Zak, Geller, Polugaevski and others. The one outlier is an extensive profile of Capablanca's widow when she was living in New York. These wonderful essays very much give the human dimension to the game, giving the troubled and difficult lives of players who succeeded and suffered under the Soviet regime. In fact, the contrast between the perfect communist Botvinnik and most of the others is quite striking.

Great book. Highly recommended, even to non-chess players for the insights into life in the old Soviet Union.


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