Books Like The Queen's Gambit
The Queen's Gambit, a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, received renewed interest after the popular 2020 Netflix miniseries of the same name. The story of a young orphan who turns out to be a chess prodigy captivated audiences. However, the protagonist, Beth Harmon, also had a lot of inner demons to face, and her struggles with addiction made for a harrowing read. Whether you are a fan of the book or discovered it thanks to the Netflix adaptation, here are more books like The Queen's Gambit that deals with similar tribulations and triumphs.
by Walter Tevis
Long before Walter Tevis wrote The Queen's Gambit he also wrote a book about billiards called The Hustler. Published in 1959, it was his first novel and explored similar themes of dealing with winning, losing, and inner struggles. It received a 1961 film adaptation, starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, which was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Tevis also followed up the novel with a 1984 sequel, titled The Color of Money.
Body & Soul
by Frank Conroy
Just like Beth Harmon discovered that she is a chess prodigy, the protagonist of Body & Soul, Claude Rawlings, has his own life transformed by his talent on the piano. Claude is the child of an eccentric taxi-driver mother and grows up in a basement apartment where poverty and loneliness weigh heavily on his mind. Frank Conroy was an accomplished jazz pianist himself, which lends authenticity to this story.
by Nikita Lalwani
Gifted by Nikita Lalwani is her debut novel and features a math prodigy named Rumi Vasi. Just like Beth, Rumi has incredible talent but has to deal with a lot of pressure. Rumi's father has his heart set on Rumi getting accepted by Oxford University at a very young age and believes that strict discipline is all that it will take for her to do so. While Rumi longs for things that other teens take for granted, such as love and friendship, the expectations of her parents make it hard for her to lead a normal life.
by Icchokas Meras and Jonas Zdanys
Stalemate is a 1963 novel by Lithuanian author Icchokas Meras. The author narrowly escaped the Holocaust as a child although his family was not as fortunate. Stalemate is set during World War II and involves a wager between a Nazi Commandant and a man named Abraham Lipman trying to spare the lives of the children in the Vilna Ghetto. The Nazi proposes a chess match against Lipman's son Isaac, but with extremely cruel stakes. If Isaac wins the children's lives will be spared, but Isaac will die. If Isaac loses he will live, but all the children will be killed. This means that the only outcome that can save Isaac and the other children is a stalemate.
by Pascal Mercier
Lea is a novel by Peter Bieri, the Swiss writer, and philosopher who wrote under the pseudonym, Pascal Mercier. It is the story of Lea, a young girl who is heartbroken and retreats from the world after the death of her mother. The only thing that breaks Lea out of her cycle of mourning is the snatch of music that she hears being played on a violin by a busker. Lea is immediately drawn to the instrument and throws all her energy into mastering how to play one herself. To the surprise of her father, Lea has a natural talent for playing and goes on to become one of the best violin players in the country. Unfortunately, as her fame grows Lea, her relationship with her father deteriorates, causing him to think that he might lose her too just like he lost his wife.
The Queen of Katwe
by Tim Crothers
The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers is a 2012 novel based on the real story of a Ugandan girl named Phiona Mutesi. When Phiona was nine years old she met a war refugee turned missionary who was teaching chess to the kids in the Katwe slum. Phiona joined in and it immediately became obvious that she had an immense talent for the game. She quickly rose to the ranks of junior champion in her country by the age of eleven and national champion at age fifteen. The rights to the book were optioned by Walt Disney Pictures and a film was released in 2016, starring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo.
The Luzhin Defense
by Vladimir Nabokov
Another novel that deals with a chess prodigy who uses the game as a refuge from the harsh realities of life is The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov. The protagonist, Luzhin, quickly rises to the rank of grandmaster and becomes one of the top players in the world. However, he fails to become a world champion and his obsession with the game causes him to lose touch with reality. The novel was later turned into a film of the same name starring John Turturro and Emily Watson.