Sunday, October 07, 2012

"Fischer vs. Spassky" in The New Yorker

I was intrigued by Lara Vapnyar's short story "Fischer vs. Spassky" in The New Yorker (October 8, 2012), which provides an unusual perspective on the famous 1972 chess match, as seen through the eyes of a Jewish couple living in the Soviet Union who contemplate emigrating--with all the risks that entailed.  For those of us who have too easily accepted the black and white Cold War narrative of the match, the story provides some neat reversals.  Take this quote, for instance:
All the Russian Jews who considered themselves liberal had wanted Fischer to win. For them, the Soviet Union stood for everything that was vile and deceitful, while the United States held the promise of everything that was good. And Fischer was the face of that good. The enormous, warty face of democracy.
Read the full story online.  


Glen Hart said...

This was an intriguing and complex little story, and a neat plot device devised by the author - using the Fischer-Spassky match and the arc of Fischer's life - to refelct the main character's (Marina's) own personal journey. I thought the reference to Fischer's face as "warty" was interesting, the "warty face of democracy" perhaps the representation of Marina's fear of the west and the unknown. Seeing Fischer evokes her husband, and in telling Elijah that she thinks he is being "...too hard on Fischer," perhaps she is also evoking a time when things were simpler for all of us, when lines were clearly drawn, black and white, east and west. This was certainly true for Marina at least, the combative Fischer conjuring for her a time when everything that mattered to her - husband, child, home - were in sharp focus.

Michael Goeller said...

I agree with your reading, and I like that "warty" line too. By the end of the story, she seems to have accepted America, like she has accepted Fischer, "warts and all" as they say. Thanks for the note.