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The Defense Paperback – August 11, 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
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Original Language: Russian
Top Customer Reviews
Luzhin, the hapless grandmaster born before World War I, has no inner life. He hides from people on all social occasions, dresses in rags, and lives a reclusive existence until an unnamed Russian expatriate in Paris takes pity on him and marries him over her parents' objections. The modern reader naturally thinks of Bobby Fischer with his antisocial behavior and tantrums, but Luzhin is more tortured, and actually has a psychotic break at the point of adjournment of his world championship match with an Italian challenger who favored hypermodern flank openings (perhaps modeled after Richard Reti, another player of the 1920s whose achievements were cut short by an early death).
Nabokov not only played chess, but composed "retrograde" problems of the most difficult kind, in which the solution requires proof of the move that must have preceded the position shown in the diagram. His description of Luzhin's hallucinations is harrowing, but his shimmering vocabulary and sentence structure puts him at the top of his craft as a writer. One of the most remarkable things about Nabokov was his brilliant, penetrating, power of observation. A few examples:
"That special snow of oblivion, abundant and soundless snow, covered his recollection with an opaque white mist."
"...and his wife's voice persuading the silence to drink a cup of cocoa."
"He became engrossed in the fantastical misbehavior of numbers and the wayward frolics of geometric lines....Read more ›
Nabokov skilfully portrays Luzhin's life becoming like a reflection trapped between two mirrors, finally coming to an inevitable vanishing point. The moments in his life begin to echo and re-echo previous moments, like some recurring melody in the violin music that is a motif in the novel. His actions are like moves in a chess game, particularly in the first half of the novel, where the moments Nabokov castles, then brings out his queen, can be pinpointed.
If this does not sound like a particularly gripping tale, fear not: Nabokov writes about his characters with such elusive, unsentimental humanity, that the reader is infused with warmth or compassion for them all.
And of course, the real reason for ever reading Nabokov is the exquisite rapture of his language. Another reviewer has said here that once known, Nabokov can become as essential as the fresh ocean air; he realises worlds so deeply and so richly through the fullness of his language that the 'real' world risks seeming like a drab faded photocopy in comparison.
Though completely different in style - completely - this book at times reminded me of Samuel Beckett's work, in that in flashes it circumscribes the outer reaches of existential loneliness.
I did not give this 5 stars because the novel seemed falter slightly in its purpose towards the end. Even though this is a staggeringly good novel, it just isn't as scintillatingly brilliant as Lolita.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Another brilliant work of art from perhaps the greatest fiction writer of all time. My favorite right now, anyway. Read morePublished 9 months ago by A Reader
A delightful early novel from the master in which the life of an artist in relation to both 'reality' and to his art is explored. Read morePublished 19 months ago by lily t.
After reading this book, one must only be pleasantly surprised by the artistic career accomplished by Vladimir Nabokov throughout his life. Read morePublished on April 14, 2014 by dimitriweb [this reviewer has been added to the top 10 (see more)]
I just couldn't get into this one. I LOVED Pnin, but no; this one was not my cup of Kremlin.Published on September 20, 2013 by stumpstein
Vladimir Nabokov was a Russian born writer who gained fame with "Lolita", which was quite scandalous at the time. Read morePublished on June 24, 2013 by W. Clement
If you haven't read any Nabokov, I wouldn't start with this one. It is very well written, but the surprise that you see in some of his books happens relatively early in the plot... Read morePublished on March 16, 2013 by BlueDog
Nabokov's The Defense looks in the mind of an obsessive. Obsessed with Chess after a mysterious violinist points out that it is better than music, the game of the gods. Read morePublished on July 20, 2012 by Neri
In THE LUZHIN DEFENSE, Nabokov examines the effects of mental exhaustion in an esteemed but socially awkward chess master who connects to life only through the language and... Read morePublished on June 7, 2012 by Ethan Cooper
A novel about a brilliant chess player's descent into madness, "The Luzhin Defense" [a. k. a. "The Defense"] suffers from a detached protagonist and a narrative that plays up his... Read morePublished on April 13, 2012 by Bill Slocum