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The Gift Paperback – May 7, 1991

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For most of his life, Vladimir Nabokov was quite literally a man without a country. It's a small irony, then, that his career falls so neatly into national phases: Russian, German, French, and American, plus the protracted coda he spend in a Swiss luxury hotel during his final decade. The Gift, which he wrote between 1935 and 1937 in Berlin, is the grand summation of his second phase. It describes, for starters, the sentimental education of a young Russian writer, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev. This hyphenated creation has more than a few things in common with the author, despite Nabokov's vehement denial in the novel's foreword. Still, only a nitwit would read The Gift for its autobiographical revelations. What this early masterpiece does offer is a wealth of lyrical, witty, heartbreaking prose, beautifully translated from the Russian by Michael Scammell (with an assist from Nabokov himself). Who else would note the way a street rises "at a barely perceptible angle, beginning with a post office and ending with a church, like an epistolary novel"? Who else has ever administered the satirical shiv to his characters with such deadly, almost affectionate aplomb?
Shirin himself was a thickset man with a reddish crew cut, always badly shaved and wearing large spectacles behind which, as in two aquariums, swam two tiny, transparent eyes--which were completely impervious to visual impressions. He was blind like Milton, deaf like Beethoven, and a blockhead to boot.
Of course, only a fraction of The Gift is taken up with this sort of demolition derby. Fyodor's romance with Zina, for example, occasions the most ardent prose of Nabokov's career: "And not only was Zina cleverly and elegantly made to measure for him by a very painstaking fate, but both of them, forming a single shadow, were made to the measure of something not quite comprehensible, but wonderful and benevolent and continuously surrounding them." (Shades of Volodya and Véra? Only the deceased husband and wife, and perhaps Stacy Schiff, know for sure.)

At the same time, The Gift is a brilliant, mesmerizing riff on the history of Russian literature, with elaborate bouquets tossed to Pushkin and Gogol. There's also a hilarious yet somehow tender evisceration of the do-gooding polemicist Nikolai Chernyshevski--which was suppressed, in fact, when the novel was originally serialized by a Russian émigré magazine. As should be clear by now, The Gift defies any attempt at quick-and-dirty summary. But the book plays the most pleasurable kind of havoc with our stuffy notions of narrative structure and linguistic protocol. And as Nabokov repeatedly wraps the reader's consciousness around his little finger, he never holds back on that ultimate literary gift: pleasure. --James Marcus


He did us all an honour by electing to use, and transform, our language. Anthony Burgess Nabokov can move you to laughter in the way that masters can - to laughter that is near to tears. The Guardian --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (May 7, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679727256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679727255
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #461,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I found this "coming of age in exile" novel of VN's to be an exhilirating, long read. The sensibilities developed in this final Russian novel of VN's are multi-layered and alternately opaque and transparent. Oftentimes this book appears to be going nowhere and then a passage appears that transports you into another of Nabokov's magical perspectives where human imagination informs the universe! I've enjoyed the pace of the text and found it to be a book worth savoring over an extended reading. Criticisms about the books apparent "plotlessness" are not based in any Nabokovian context. Careful reading, sirs and ladies, is the way to proceed. The reading is the thing! Take the gift as just that.
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Format: Paperback
This is an intense, nostalgic, non-linear novel. It's a rich treat for Nabokov fans. The first time I read it, I recall getting frustrated at the seeming plotlessness, yet there were certain scenes and passsages that I could never forget. I picked it up again a couple of years later, and absolutely fell in love with it. The Gift is, in some ways, Nabokov's take on Joyce-- a roaming perspective, an intellectual humor, an overall sense of character development. The end of the novel is ecstatic with the potential of life.
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Format: Paperback
Nabokov is very funny(in case you didn't already know that) and no matter what his subject matter the humor comes through. That is one of the gifts here, the other more obvious one is literature, specifically Russian literature, the tradition of which is a gift the Russian born Nabokov received and in this book he gives you his version of that tradition in brief and since this book would be the last book he wrote in Russian one assumes he is paying a quite deliberate homage to his homelands men of letters. But Nabokov is never serious for long and the laughs are always right around the corner or on the next page. This book is also about lead character Fyodor's gift which is his talent and that talent appears in wonderful ways all through the narrative. This was written in Nabokov's middle period while he lived in Berlin,Germany writing in a small hotel room with family and those circumstances just makes this all the more incredible because it is a very beautiful book. Perhaps Nabokov was wondering what he would do with his gift at this most uncertain pre-WWII moment in his life. His great books were still to come but this book is his first to show that he is no ordinary artist and it at least equals if not surpasses the later books in regards to appeal because it is so personal, or at least as personal as Nabokov gets. You know you are in the hands of a master when you suddenly realize the chapter you are reading is a dream even though it is written in a way that does not immediately give that away and so you share the dreamers belief that the dreamed moment is real(what is a Russian novel without a dream). But again Nabokovs humor comes into play as the clue that this is in fact a dream is only subtley inserted into the chapter.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This is the last book Vladimir Nabokov wrote in what he called his `untrammelled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue'. The story of Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev, a young Russian émigré aristocrat in Berlin, told in this novel is both a personal journey and a reflection of Russia's past. Nabokov provides a brief synopsis in his foreword:

`The plot of Chapter One centers in Fyodor's poems. Chapter Two is a surge toward Pushkin in Fyodor's literary progress and contains his attempt to describe his father's zoological explorations. Chapter Three shifts to Gogol, but its real hub is the love poem dedicated to Zina. Fyodor's book on Chernyshevsky, a spiral within a sonnet, takes care of Chapter Four. The last chapter combines all the preceding themes and adumbrates the book Fyodor dreams of writing someday: The Gift.'

I would need to read this book at least two more times to fully appreciate it. It is not a novel to be devoured quickly, it deserves to be savoured slowly. On this, my first read, I simply enjoyed Nabokov's use of language both as he describes Fyodor's progress and as he lampoons Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828-1889) in the `spiral within a sonnet'. It's beautifully done, the way that Nabokov works a biography of Chernyshevsky into his novel, contrasting two quite different Russias but with some shared shortcomings.

`Existence is thus an eternal transformation of the future into the past - an essentially phantom process - a mere reflection of the material metamorphosis taking place within us.'
And when the novel ends, will Fyodor's success continue? Will he and Zina be happy? Or will his (and their) moment be brief, like the butterflies?
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Format: Paperback
There an old cartoon that shows two scientists at a chalkboard filled with equations and in the middle is written "and then a miracle occurred," whereupon the other one says "I think this section in the middle needs work." I thought of this cartoon when reading The Gift because Fyodor/ Nabokov (this really is the most autobiographical of his novels) was incredibly alone in Berlin in the mid-1920s and then he meets Zina/ Vera and the miracle occurs. Not only is he no longer alone, but he has found someone who understands and accepts him absolutely and without reservation. The novel is a love letter to Zina/ Vera, among many other things.

The other reviews have objected to the inclusion of the Chernyshevsky biography. I would recommend reading up a bit on Chernyshevsky before starting the book. Even the Wikipedia entry should be enough. The point of the Chernyshevsky section is to contrast the lack of knowledge of the materialists (including Lenin, who was deeply influenced by Chernyshevsky, and the Bolsheviks) with the gentry tradition of Fyodor's father, who was a great naturalist. While Chernyshevsky said he was interested in the material world, he actually knew nothing about it and only managed to destroy and befoul what was around him. This indictment of Chernyshevsky is of course also an indictment of the Bolsheviks, which is noted in the novel, as the "work" was published by an anti-Soviet publisher. The part on Chernyshevsky says that he knew nothing of actual things and could only write about the relationship between things. This is quite insightful, actually. Once you understand this part, you can see why even such small things as Fyodor's naming of all the butterflies and other objects in the Grunewald forest is an important part of the novel.
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