Monday, March 17, 2014

Birth of the Chess Queen

Marilyn Yalom was giving a lecture on the history of the breast when she was presented with a very unusual statue of Mary suckling the baby Jesus. She was told it was a chess piece, and this one event sparked her curiosity forcing her to take a close look not only at past chess queens but also the history behind the queen from when she first took up her place on the board to the changes in her movements on it.

This book was a fascinating read for me. I not only enjoy the game of chess but am also fascinated by the outside appearances that changed as women grew in power in the world. This book was an insightful look into the women who were powerful enough to change this game piece that people the world over played with, at a time when women seemed to have little to no power in the real world. As Yalom goes back to the beginning of chess to describe the original piece, the vsir, who stood in the place we now associate with the queen, the carefully picks her way through the history of several countries looking for the first appearances of the queen in each. She then looks at the women in power as the piece appears, trying to figure out who may have had a hand in bringing forth this now-powerful figure.

Not only does Yalom seem to cover all her bases, answer most of the questions she began with and then some, she makes it all clear to the reader in such a way that I was not once bored by what I was reading. Instead, like any work of fiction, I was drawn into the book wanting to know what detail she would present next, what historical Queen she would give me to consider next, and what other pieces have survived from the time that so differ from the one I have in my home. She is a skilled lecturer that is able to convey all she wants to onto the page with a beautiful outcome.

Finally Yalom presents in the last chapter a look at women players today. She shows that chess has once more become a men's game with women still being spoken down on when showing interest in it. While the chess queen remains supreme on the board, the players are still very misogynistic about the playing. A sad fact indeed.

I picked this book up off a whim at a discount store because of my enjoyment of the game, and I was pleased to discover something more. I look forward to picking up more of Yalom's books in an effort to get a look into her perspective of women. Consider it furthering my Women's Studies class from college! I recommend that lovers of the game take a chance and read this one. You could be surprised at what you learn!

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