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the Complete Review
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Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw

Thomas Glavinic

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To purchase Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw

Title: Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw
Author: Thomas Glavinic
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 232 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw - US
Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw - UK
Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw - Canada
Carl Haffners Liebe zum Unentschieden - Deutschland
Partie remise - France
  • Translated by John Brownjohn
  • German title: Carl Haffners Liebe zum Unentschieden

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Our Assessment:

B : a small human tragedy, fairly well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 28/5/1998 Stefan Löffler
TLS A 12/11/1999 Jessica Smerin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Doch im wesentlichen, und das ist die größte Schwäche dieser leicht dahin gleitenden Erzählung, folgt Glanivic den Legenden." - Stefan Löffler, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Glavinic's novel achieves its considerable emotional impact slowly and subtly. (...) Glavinic writes about chess beautifully. (...) A chess master devotes as much energy and imagination to a move as a writer does to constructing a sentence, according to Glavinic. He writes about a game as if it were a poem or a painting." - Jessica Smerin, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Thomas Glavinic's first novel, Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw, is about chess, culminating in a ten-game tournament for the World Championship between the title character and Emanuel Lasker. Based on historical fact -- Carl Haffner is a fictionalized version of turn of the century Viennese chess great Carl Schlechter -- Glavinic's novel nevertheless only uses chess as the foundation of his novel. It is a portrait of the tragic figure of Haffner that he paints, and it is the human aspects he concentrates on.
       Himself a highly rated chess player, Glavinic manages to keep the technical aspects of the game on the simplest level. Almost everything revolves around chess, but it is the passions the game arouses and the fascination it exerts -- not obscure strategies and gameplans -- that are of significance and interest.
       In setting up the decisive match, Glavinic recounts Haffner's unlikely rise. Born in difficult circumstances he is introduced to chess at a young age. Enthralled by the game he finds escape in it. A book dealer, Samuel Gold, recognizes his talent and fosters it.
       Slowly Haffner is introduced into the chess-playing world of the Viennese coffee houses, a young prodigy. He becomes a leading figure of the Viennese school -- though always living on the periphery of the chess world that is dominated by wealthy patrons. His personality -- the one that also leads him to love playing to a draw rather than necessarily for victory -- leave him unable to ask for the help that he requires. He can not escape his poverty and his personal demons, including his great love for his half-sister.
       Haffner is talented enough that he gets the opportunity to play for the world title, and the ten decisive games are drawn out through the book. Haffner has great difficulties in dealing with the publicity and attention, and he is too shy and humble to ask for more funds or an additional meal as he rations his pieces of bread. Many are helpful and supportive, but no one has any true idea of his real suffering, and so the suffering continues. Only the love of the game momentarily allows it to be put aside.
       Haffner's great talent is in playing to a draw, and Glavinic explores and exploits this to the fullest. It also becomes Haffner's final undoing. The final outcome of the tournament is hardly in doubt, but Glavinic manages to make it a fairly exciting affair.
       The misery of Vienna before World War I is fully realized here, and the contrasts between those who dominated the chess clubs and societies and the (almost) democratic playing-field that is the chessboard itself is also quite effective. Only Haffner's hopeless misery, relentlessly described on page after page, threatens to overwhelm what is otherwise a fine story.
       A good, touching (though bleak) read, Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw is a fine, small novel. It presents an interesting bit of history, and is a good (and not excessively technical) look at the turn of the century chess world -- a reflection also of the larger world, both then and now. Haffner, the most decent of souls, can survive in none of them.

Please note that this review refers to the original German version.

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Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw:
  • DTV publicity page
Reviews: Other books by Thomas Glavinic under review: Thomas Glavinic: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Thomas Glavinic was born in 1972. He is a highly rated chess player.

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