Game Of The Gods
Paolo Maurensig, Anne Milano Appel
Mr B's review
Game of the God’s falls into the genre of fictional biography, a pre-script makes it clear that the events are partly imagined and partly true – a good dose of post-read Wiki clears up any ambiguity. But really, what is factual and what is not just simply doesn’t matter. The story is brilliant, expertly crafted, and refreshingly subversive – taking a healthy step back from the very Eurocentric history of chess. Game of the Gods introduces us to a new, forgotten, chess master, Mir Sultan Khan. Predictably, Khan’s journey in the chess world becomes political, and is tragically cut short.
After the sudden death of his parents, Mir Sultan Khan enters servitude for the largest landowner in Punjab, Malik Umar Hayat Khan; who, had an established military career as a lieutenant for King George V. It is from him that our protagonist inherits his name. Khan’s innate understanding and skill of Chaturanga – an ancient Indian game which precedes chess – is recognised by Hayat Khan. He immediately begins to strategize as to how to make use of this unique asset. Hayat Khan is understandably frustrated by the repeated disgrace that white peers bestow upon him. Although an equal in terms of wealth and military credentials, his ethnicity keeps them forever on an uneven keel. In an attempt to challenge the Empire in a more subtle and benign way, he teaches Khan the European rules of chess and tours him around the top European chess competitions. The narrative of this young chess prodigy as he steps foot on the Western stage, is immediately hijacked by the press. There is a lot to unpack in this novel, it is at times a triumphant but ultimately sad novel, Khan is forever reduced to racialized stereotypes, wielded as a political signifier, whose chess skills are forever left in the parenthesis by the media.
In 1930s British India, a humble servant learns the art of chaturanga, the ancient Eastern ancestor of chess. His natural talent soon catches the attention of the maharaja, who introduces him to the Western version of the game. Brought to England as the prince’s pawn, Malik becomes a chess legend, winning the world championship and humiliating the British colonialists. His skills as a refined strategist eventually drag him into a strange game of warfare with far-reaching consequences.
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