The Book That Made Me: Nicola Davies 15/05/19
A coming of age story about chess, tolerance, immigration and what it means to be a true champion.
Judit is an 11-year-old girl who lives in Geneva with her mother and grandfather. A keen artist, she draws in charcoals by the giant chess boards in her local park, practicing for a prestigious art competition. She gradually becomes interested in chess, until one day she is challenged to a game by Mr. Aliyat, a mysterious Iranian chess master. As she gets to know him better, she discovers that he is a refugee with no papers. One day, Mr. Aliyat is taken away by the authorities amidst general paranoia about terrorist attacks. Judit decides to take things into her own hands by organizing a public chess match between Mr. Aliyat and herself. This attracts a huge amount of attention, including the press, protestors on both sides of the political spectrum, famous real-life chess players and Judit's long-absent father. Ultimately, Judit's bravery and determination is undimmed, even to the point of sacrificing her chance in the art competition. The story is not just about her successful attempt to keep Mr. Aliyat in Switzerland but also her own path to maturity.
Here's what our judges had to say:
"From the instantly engaging opening scene, what an intriguing book this is – a brilliantly drawn central character, strange mysteries to be understood, an art competition, emotional family baggage, a fight to save a refugee... and quite a lot of chess. And even if (like me) you don't know much about chess, you'll find the author has used it brilliantly, not for itself but as a way to reveal and develop his characters and their relationships. The Immortal is the unusual and thought-provoking story of Judit who – for all her flaws – you can't help falling for, as she deals with her personal problems (and political ones) with such stubborn determination and spirit." – Daniel Hahn
"A stubborn girl. An absent father. A chess master who happens to be a refugee. These are the pieces at play as Judit doggedly battles the mysterious Mister Aliyat at chess. Every move, every game, every loss, changes Judit and binds her story to her opponent's." – Candy Gourlay