Liliana Najdorf, Najdorf x Najdorf (Russell Enterprises, 2016). 208 pp., $24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Even when I was a kid 35-40 years ago, the name "Najdorf" (pronounced "nigh-dorf", but often mispronounced "nodge-dorf") was much more closely associated with the opening variation in the Sicilian rather than with the man himself, the Polish-born Argentinian grandmaster Miguel Najdorf. This is how it was in the United States, at least; perhaps in Europe and especially South America things were different. It's true that even in the early 1980s Najdorf (1910-1997) was already quite old by the standards of professional chess, but given his greatness as a player and his larger than life persona, his relative obscurity in the broader chess world is unfortunate.
The book Najdorf x Najdorf (presumably this is to be read as "Najdorf by Najdorf"?) is not a chess biography, though there are 25 games. One is his immortal game with Glücksberg, annotated by Najdorf himself, twelve of his best and most notable games annotated by Jan Timman (who also supplied the Foreword). These 13 are given after the biographical portion, and there are another twelve distributed throughout the rest of the book. (These are briefly annotated by Taylor Kingston, who also translated the book, fact-checked it, and included various appendixes.) In addition to those 25 games, there are also two brief fragments from Najdorf's games, along with the famous Alekhine-Böök game. There is therefore enough chess material to satisfy fans looking for great games and looking for a hint of how strong he was throughout his career.
The heart of the book, however, is the biography; mostly a memoir, authored by his daughter Liliana. Najdorf had two families: one in Poland, which was destroyed by the Nazis, and then a second one in Argentina. Najdorf was Jewish, and was playing in the Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires when the Germans invaded Poland. Najdorf did what he could from Argentina to rescue his wife Genia and infant daughter Lusia, but he could not save them. During and then after the war Najdorf stayed in Argentina, remarrying and having two more daughters, Mirta and Liliana. (He outlived his second wife, Eta, who died of natural causes in 1982, and a third wife, Rita, as well; she died in 1996, one year before he did.)
Some attention is given to Najdorf's chess career, but not too much, and what's there isn't of the usual "and then he went there and scored X/Y, taking 1st place, and then he traveled to..." material characteristic of chess biographies. Three themes run throughout the book: Najdorf's families, Najdorf's adventures (which includes chess but isn't limited to it), and Najdorf's gargantuan personality. Any chess player who has read stories about Najdorf will have some idea about Najdorf's gregariousness and volubility, and these traits pervaded his entire life, both for good and for ill. It helped make him rich as an insurance salesman and businessman, and made him friends and gave him influence with people of all stations all over the world. When it came to his personal relationships, especially with those in his family, however, it sometimes made things difficult, and that is clearly true in his relationship with Liliana.
This does not mean that it was a bad relationship, only one with difficulties. In the Prologue, Liliana calls him a "crazy, intolerable, marvelous old man", and at the end of chapter 1, which is also a sort of prologue, she says this:
To say he was larger than life strikes me as an understatement. I look for synonyms that will help me to define him, and in those words I find him: passionate, disproportionate, ostentatious, gigantic, extraordinary, overwhelming, marvelous. Wise.
I must have inherited his tendency to excess, because I cannot choose, and I feel that every one of these adjectives fits.
It is a book for you if you are interested in the human side of chess, and the actual chess content is a nice bonus.