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La variante di Luneburg.

La variante di Luneburg is a first novel by a fifty-year-old Udine businessman. Its title a reference to a fictional chess maneuver, the work is set in present-day Germany and Austria among German-speaking characters. Much of the book's action, however, is recounted through a long conversation on the Munich-Vienna express that reevokes first the 1970s, then the more sinister decades of the 1920s and 1930s with the rise of Hitler, on to the years of World War II. This extended flashback concludes with a macabre chess match at the Bergen-Belsen death camp, an event that links the past to the present in striking (if not entirely unanticipated) fashion.

Chess, and the game as a metaphor for war, are the dominant figures of the book. Paolo Maurensig even goes so far as to suggest that there is an intrinsic connection between the mastery of chess and military subjugation by a self-styled master race of the kind that horrified the world earlier this century. That the desire to win at this board game is not totally unlike the wish to dominate other peoples is an especially disquieting notion for chess enthusiasts who are also Jewish. So when the central character of the novel defeats the SS commandant at a high-stakes chess match played at the prison camp, he cannot shake off a sense of guilt at this connivance with the evil his opponent personifies--even though his victory means that a number of his fellow inmates will be saved from early extinction.

In the best traditions of the metaphysical thriller, "The Luneburg Variation" opens with the discovery of a mysterious corpse found shot to death on an oversize chessboard at the center of a garden maze. The precise combination of moves the reader must make to arrive at the revelation of how and why Dieter Frisch met his death is described only in part. At the novel's conclusion those who have played along with the author to the end are left to figure out for themselves how the plot must necessarily and inevitably conclude. Such readers might also decide at the novel's end that the same qualities of memory, anticipation, and imagination that are important for chess are also essential for successful engagement with a certain kind of fiction.

That the world "The Luneburg Variation" evokes is so unrelievedly German-speaking makes one wonder if this northern Italian author might just as readily have written his novel in that language. Could it be that in choosing Italian rather than German for his book, Maurensig was deliberately avoiding writing in a language rightly or wrongly associated with Nazism?

Charles Klopp Ohio State University
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Author:Klopp, Charles
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1994
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