Monday, May 26, 2008

West Across the Board by Andrew Jalbert

About the book: From the time of their meeting and first chess match on Key West in the 1930s, each man’s win is scratched into the back of the board. As the game tally grows, so does their friendship. Now, both men are in their twilight years, but it’s Dominic’s life, weathered by cancer, which is reaching its conclusion. Lázaro, who fled from his island home and his friend years ago, learns that Dominic is rapidly dying and sets off on the long journey from Boston to Florida to see his old friend. Prior to leaving, Lázaro retrieves the old chessboard and makes a startling discovery. The number of scratches, first marked over sixty years before and uncounted until now, has the two men evenly tied.

As he drives toward Dominic and the keys, Lázaro is forced to confront a past he has struggled to forget while anticipating the reunion with his old friend and what could be their final game.

The idea behind this book intrigued me. A lifetime of friendship, a game of strategy, friends separated by the miles, and one man racing against time to see his old friend before they are forever parted. I asked Andrew to share a little bit about Dominic and Lazaro with you today.

My two main characters met in Sloppy Joe’s Saloon in Key West, Florida in 1934–-the year after Prohibition ended and the year before the Labor Day Hurricane would devastate the middle keys. Dominic, a brilliant engineer, had recently purchased an old chessboard from a Bahamian rail worker and was looking for a challenger that night in the tavern. Lázaro, a Cuban mariner and successful fishing guide, agreed to play what would for the next sixty years be spoken of as Game One.

West Across the Board is not a book about chess. I initially wrote the chess games solely as a conduit between the two men’s lives; however I soon discovered that the matches could also highlight the friends’ fundamental differences. Dominic’s approach to strategy, be it the games or his engineering work, was based on numeric truths that seemed so apparent to him. His adherence to linear, structured thought served him well to a point, but the reader soon discovers that his brilliance is also his handicap, something we see in the story as he struggles to understand the chaotic nature of relationships and even his own environment. In spite of this, Dominic shows a deep kindness and thoughtfulness throughout the novel and based on the feedback I’ve gotten from readers, he seems to be the favorite character in the book.

Lázaro is a man driven by instincts. He makes decisions quickly, generally based on nothing more than his gut. His life on the water probably accounts for much of this. The typical cadence of the chess games is staggered, with Dominic thinking through every move before committing a piece, then Lázaro moving quickly. From West Across the Board: “Yet in spite of Lázaro’s impatience, he had a certain feel for the game, and when playing at his best, he seemed to control the flow of the game effortlessly, without showing the tense concern for each individual move that Dominic did.” As well as being impatient, Lázaro is often emotional, something that plagues him throughout the book and ultimately drives him from his island home.

The contrasting personalities of these two characters create an interesting friendship that spans nearly six decades. They not only learn from each other along the way, but gain new perspectives. Across the board from each other, they enjoy and talk about happy times and support each other while weathering loss. And while the chess game is a constant throughout the book, West Across the Board is really a story about friendship, hope, loss and reconciliation.

WEST ACROSS THE BOARD VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on May 1, 2008 and continue all month long. If you would like to follow Andrew's tour in progress, visit in May. Leave a comment at any of his blog stops and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of his tour! One lucky winner will be announced on this tour page on May 30!

This virtual book tour has been brought to you by:

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