cover image Game of the Gods

Game of the Gods

Paolo Maurensig, trans. from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. World Editions, $

Italian novelist Maurensig (A Devil Comes to Town) spins an intriguing historical narrative of Indian chess master Malik Mir Sultan Khan (1903–1966). When Normal la Motta, a journalist covering the impending war between India and Pakistan in 1965, learns his childhood idol, Sultan Khan, lives nearby, la Motta tracks him down, eager to learn the truth about a scandal involving Khan’s marriage to the wealthy American widow Cecilia Abbott. The ensuing story, narrated by Sultan Khan, recounts his life from childhood in an early 20th-century village stalked by a demonic tiger that killed his parents, to his tutelage under a wealthy landowner who leads him on a circuit through England’s top chess competitions in his early 20s. Eventually, his career languishes, hobbled by racism and bigotry. By the 1950s, he lands as a taxi driver in New York City and becomes the servant, spiritual companion, and eventually husband of Cecilia, an elderly heiress to a steel magnate whose death and subsequent bestowal of all her wealth upon Sultan Khan casts the remainder of his life under scrutiny. The story sputters a bit in the latter half, particularly with Sultan Khan’s bizarre rant from a psychiatric ward. Still, Maurensig’s tragic tale of genius and destiny duly salvages a forgotten hero. (Jan.)