The World Played Chess
Lake Union Publishing
Sept 14th, 2021
The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni is the story of three young men transitioning into adulthood throughout different decades. The phrase, “the father, son, and the holy ghost” comes to mind. William Goodman is a ghost of the person he was before fighting in Vietnam. He has ghosts that haunt him throughout his life. Vincenzo Bianco is the father who tried to pass on his life experiences to his son, Beau. The story plays out in three years: 1967-1968, 1979, and 2015.
In 2015, Vincent Bianco is sent a journal by his friend William Goodman. The journal goes into vivid aspects, including the horrific details of American soldiers’ times in Viet Nam. These flashbacks are explained in a letter: “You asked about Vietnam. And you listened when others did not. You saved me from destroying my life, and you were the reason I found my life again.”
In 1967-1968 William, an eighteen-year-old, decides to enlist in the Marines. Although he wanted to be a war reporter the Marines assigned him as a photographer. Through his eyes and words readers take a journey into the hell called Viet Nam where those fighting saw their fellow soldiers blown up or killed by a bullet to the head.
In 1979 Vincent is an eighteen-year-old class Valedictorian who gets a summer job after graduation to help pay his college tuition and give him some spending money. While working with a construction crew he befriends two older men, William Goodman and Todd Pearson, who he soon finds out are both Viet Nam veterans. Slowly, Vincent finds out tidbits that his fellow workers went through while fighting over there.
In 2015, with Vincent’s son Beau heading off to college, he also must come to grips with decisions to be made. What is very interesting is how Beau and William’s parents both reacted to their sons leaving home. They realize they can no longer protect them and that the boys will have the need to spread their wings. Another parallel is that both Beau and William learned how to handle tragedy when they lost close friends.
After finishing the book, readers feel that Robert Dugoni wrote about this war as if he had been there, even though he wasn’t. In learning about Viet Nam, people will be able to make their own parallels as the withdrawal of Afghanistan played out in the news. This story about Viet Nam veterans is heartfelt, poignant, and somber.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Robert Dugoni: I wanted to write another literary novel after the success of The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hellbecause I enjoy writing these stories.
EC: What about the title of the book and the quote, “The World Played Chess, While I Played Checkers”?
RD: Last winter I was telling a friend about this book. He gave me this quote, explaining, we are not playing the same game as anyone else. This is a simple game, and the game is far more complex than the game being played. No one knows what is going on. Then I thought this would make a perfect title for the book.
EC: So, in other words, both chess and checkers are played on the same size board. Checkers has only one type of piece, a total of twelve pieces, with only two potential moves. While chess has sixteen pieces, six types, and eight potential moves. So, chess is more strategic and complicated.
EC: Were you ever in the Viet Nam war?
RD: No. But in the summer of 1979, I got a job on a construction crew with two Viet Nam veterans. This was the first time I learned the world is more complex than what I was exposed to. I thought how these guys were my age when they traveled over there.
EC: How did the journal come about?
RD: I had my son read the story because some of the aspects were about his life, including playing football. He came to me and said he would find it interesting to find out more about William. He wanted to learn more about Viet Nam, which was a pivotal point of our history.
EC: Since you were not there how did you do the research?
RD: I read many first-hand accounts of the guys who went over there. I also read books about Viet Nam like Nam by Mark Baker. I grew up on the edge of the bubble but was always fascinated about Viet Nam. I also, like Vincent in the story, knew two Viet Nam vets who helped me with the minute details.
EC: Did the pictures that William took really disappear?
RD: Yes. This is true. One of the construction workers was a photographer there. He told me that he took pictures of American soldiers’ bodies on an armored carrier being taken out of the jungle. When he returned home the cannisters of his photos had been removed.
EC: Why the Marines?
RD: They are the badasses of our fighting force, always first in and the last out. No one is never a former Marine. It is a badge of honor for those in that unit. Many of those in Viet Nam thought they would kick some ass and then get out. Being stronger, bigger, with better weapons does not mean we would win. It was a war of attrition. Because the other side lived there, they were never going away. As with Afghanistan, at some point it became unsustainable.
EC: There is a quote about death?
RD: You must be referring to this quote, “The difference between living and dying was nothing more than dumb luck.” The sadness of the war is often forgotten, the loss of life. Viet Nam was a media war, done to have TV justify it. But it did exactly the opposite. People got to see the horrors there. I also have the quote, “Growing old is a privilege, not a right.” Many of the young men who fought over there never got the opportunity. Those that did come home were judged very poorly. They were not understood about what they were doing over there and what they were going through, the daily mental fatigue and stress. They were called baby killers. American citizens sat in their comfortable suburban homes and never knew the real aspects of war.
EC: You also point out the irony that those fighting over there could not vote or drink alcohol?
RD: Young men could fight in that war but could not fight or vote. The vets thought that was crazy. While in Viet Nam they were treated as adults, yet when they got back in the US, they are told they are not adults.
EC: How would you describe William?
RD: He is based on the two guys I worked with, an idealist and a realist. Very smart, had everything going for him. But after he got drafted his life changed. He is the eyes for the reader that showed how one moment in someone’s life can change them forever.
EC: How would you describe Vincenzo?
RD: He is the blank pages of the journal. Very naïve and sheltered. He grew up in a protective bubble.
EC: What about the different time periods: 1967 – 1968, 1979, and 2015?
RD: 1967-1968 is the period where actual combat was going on.
1979 was a year I knew well. I also chose it because the year is not far removed from the
Viet Nam war.
2015 is the year when I thought about writing this novel. I saw a correlation with my own
son between training for high school football and the young guys in boot camp.
EC: Your next books?
RD: An Amazon short story will be out in a couple of weeks title, The Last Line. It is about police corruption in Seattle.
In February 2022 the third book of the Charles Jenkins espionage series will be out. It is how two sisters will be rescued from Russia. It is titled The Silent Sisters.
The Tracy Crosswhite book will be out in 2023, titled What She Found. She works a cold case of a woman who disappeared.