The Luzhin Defense
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The Luzhin Defense

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  4,134 ratings  ·  193 reviews
Nabokov's third novel, The Luzhin Defense, is a chilling story of obsession and madness. As a young boy, Luzhin was unattractive,distracted, withdrawn, sullen--an enigma to his parents and an object of ridicule to his classmates. He takes up chess as a refuge from the anxiety of his everyday life.His talent is prodigious and he rises to the rank of grandmaster--but at a co...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published February 16th 2011 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1930)
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Ah Nabokov, your words are like the warm familiar embrace of an ex-lover who knows just what I like . . . except without all the self-disgust the next day.
We find in The Luzhin Defense many of Nabokov's playful tropes: madness (monomania, solipsism), resistance to meaning (particular jabs at the "Viennese delegation"), genius outcast from society. It is apparent that his is an early work of the master, though a masterful work still. Luzhin is a remote but somehow lovable obsessive. Our affection for him has true potential, perhaps a potential unusual for the typical Nabokovian protagonist. But that affection is abated by our narrative distance fro...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
A young boy, a loner, indifferent to everything, discovers chess. Ensnared by this insanely addictive game, he becomes even more indifferent to everything--except chess. He grows up, becomes a champion, many of his games considered "immortals." In a championship game against the equally-brilliant Italian Grandmaster Turati, upon adjourning a very difficult position, he suffers a breakdown. He survives, but the doctors opine that further chess might be fatal to him. Enough of the plot.

I have bee...more
Emir Never
Consider the chessmen, obedient to the wishes of their masters, the players. Their fates are not for them to decide, their momentary brilliance belong ultimately to the one who assign them to the appropriate squares. Their doom is given; their end, preordained.

In The Luzhin Defense, Vladimir Nabokov carved out a character who sees life as a chess game. International Grandmaster Luzhin discovers his life, from childhood-- a period of marked apathy enlivened only by the introduction of the royal g...more
MJ Nicholls
Hands-up: I read some of this at bullet-train speed because I had to return it to the library. Yes, I could have withdrawn it again, but there were only fifty-odd pages left and some new Foster Wallace was in that set my hands a-twitchin’ and my brain a-spinnin’.

So I didn’t let the sumptuous prose slowly unfold, I didn’t delicately caress his sentences with the same narcissistic mania the author bestowed upon his own works. But there wasn’t much sumptuousness here, anyway. His third novel is a m...more

If you are a chessplayer, like me, you simply have to read this book. No one else has even come close to describing chess obsession from the inside. The style is, needless to say, impeccable.
Over the last few weeks I’ve read The Luzhin Defense, followed by Bluebeard and then Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Originally I was going to write some stuff here about the central characters and compare them with the original Outsider. I was going to say things like this:

Maybe it is a contradiction in terms, to put 3 books about outsiders in the same review, but I can’t stop myself.

We have here a chess player, a doctor who might or might not have murdered a wife and a chickenhead. They a...more
Nearly five stars, nearly...

Those who know any obsessively compulsive persons will really appreciate the effort Nabokov went into for this. When you become so engrossed in your fixation that you begin to question what is reality. Of course I would never use this as a guide to dealing with loved ones who have OCD or whatever, but it was insightful into another aspect of the mind of the human. I have addictive tendencies, so perhaps I am lucky I never got into any activities like chess seriously....more
"Let's start if you're willing."

G.K. Chesterton once famously quipped in his book Orthodoxy that "Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom."

Vladimir Nabokov’s th!rd novel about a lonely chess grandmaster reminds me of Franz Kafka and a little bit of Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener. While this isn't my favorite Nabokov (it isn't Pale Fire or...more
After reading Lolita, I knew that I'd need another book to feed my new addiction to Nabokov. Something I could read over and over. Something with his deliciously clever writing, minus the pedophilia. I had high hopes for The Defense and I enjoyed the book, but didn't quite find what I was looking for. I'm not sure if some of his writing genius was lost in translation, it was written in Russian then translated to English, or if it was simply that in the 25 years spanning the works he became a bet...more
If Nabokov's second novel reminded me of one of my favorite writers—Marcel Proust—his third, The Luzhin Defense, brings to mind another: Virginia Woolf. Given that The Luzhin Defense concerns the gradual mental disintegration of a Russian chess grandmaster, and given that Nabokov had apparently not yet read Woolf (when he did, in 1933, he claimed a low opinion of her work), its Woolfian overtones are a bit surprising. But consider this passage, in which the now-middle-aged Luzhin remembers how h...more
Определенное и однозначное отличие великой книги от просто хорошей - это то, что ты погружаешься в нее настолько, что перестаешь замечать окружающую реальность. И когда закрываешь книгу, то еще несколько секунд с удивлением оглядываешься, где это ты и что здесь вообще происходит - настолько реальным оказывается происходящее в книге, так сильно оно увлекает и задевает.

Все, что случается с Лужиным, не кажется надуманным хоть сколько-нибудь, не возникает впечатления, что вот эта сцена или эта детал...more
Frank Hestvik

First off: I thought Luzhin was an actual chess player and that this "Luzhin Defense" was an actual opening used in chess. I must have heard or read about this book ten years ago, when I attempted (briefly) to go beyond the rules of that game, and the memory of the book somehow fused with what I now remember about chess. So I thought this book was supposed to be a sort of fictionalized biography. I was bemused by the introduction, since it didn't talk about the real Luzhin at all, but stated tha...more
I had an unhappy childhood; I was shy, socially awkward, always picked last for sports teams, and endured school as a necessary evil until about the age of 16. When I first read a novel about someone else with a miserable childhood, it was a revelation. I realized I wasn’t alone. Now I’m a middle-aged jerk who suspects these books have long since become a genre.
Originally published in Russian in 1930 by a Berlin emigre publishing house, The Defense is the story of Luzhin, a Russian emigre chess...more
(in describing the unusually bitter winter in Berlin)

"And even the polar bears in the zoo found that the management had overdone it."

Nabokov is his usual lyrical genius in The Luzhin Defense. Unfortunately, something didn't click with me in this book. Our protagonist Luzhin was so boorish that I couldn't find anything I liked about him. Yes, he was a wonder at chess, but he was pretty pathetic at everything else. It was hard not to puzzle over just what the woman who was interested in him found...more
Brent Legault
Feb 16, 2008 Brent Legault rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: grand masters, great-grand masters
I love this novel as I love all of Nabokov's novels. But it is somewhere in the middle of my own Nabokovian hierarchy, below the Ada-Lolita-Pale Fire triumverate, but above the weaker vassels* like Mary & The Enchanter. I know many people who let this book reign over all his others. And I can see why. Maybe. It's linear, it has "warmth" (as Nabokov explains in his introduction) and it isn't as dangerous as many of the novels and short stories he would later write. However, it remains a slend...more
Take an ecstatic man speaking rapturously from his pulpit. To his converts, this can enrich and reward as the words lure them in…but, depending on person or circumstance, the long-winded joyousness (if unrelatable) can be tedious and irritating.

As a Nabokov convert, I relish his technique; it is not an issue that Nabokov possesses joyousness but lacks relatability. Speak, Memory is strikingly anti-intimate, an autobiography unusually aloof, desperate to keep the reader and his own past at arm’s...more
With this early masterpiece (written when the author was 30), Nabokov proves to be, once more, one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. With exceptional mastery he fathoms the dark depths of the psyche of a chess genius, who is completely obsessed with the game, utterly isolated from the outer world, but still a human being, desperately yearning for love, affection, and understanding.True love and understanding that the hero cannot find even in the face of his spouse who in vain...more
Dalla parte di Lužin.

…E accorgersi all'improvviso, con un sorriso che gela sulla labbra, rabbrividendo, che la vita è tutta «una iterazione combinatoria di mosse», osservare, «con vaga ammirazione e con vago orrore con quanta paurosa raffinatezza, con quanta flessibilità, mossa dopo mossa, si fossero ripetute nel tempo le immagini della sua infanzia (casa di campagna, città, scuola, zia pietroburghese)», in un continuo cercare di giocare e rigiocare a memoria la partita della propria vita, un in...more
Abe Something
Beautifully winding sentences.

Nabokov has subtlety crafted a novel that is about writing a novel, yet is not outwardly reflexive. The writing is so skilled that without a careful eye you might miss the fact that Luzhin's obsession with chess is equal to a writers obsession with words. The structure of the plot, the series of small moves that allow for the ultimate move, the final big move, the checkmate - are all as much concerned with chess as the are writing. The book is designed, because the...more
Sep 24, 2007 Anittah rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: overthinkers & math geeks
My messy Amazon review circa 12/2001:

" .. that place where parallel lines go out of their mind and intersect."

This is my favorite work by Nabokov - I first encountered this in a course entitled "The Irrational in Russian Literature." To see how extreme rationality (quote unquote) becomes madness and nonreason --> it is akin to the bureaucratic "reasons" and regulations in Kafka's Castle or the supposed laws that reigned king in the U.S.S.R. (The Man in the Black Coat, Cancer Ward, etc.)

Great story, mediocre book

I hate to say this is the first Nabokov book I've read, but it is. I'm thoroughly impressed with his writing and imagery and the story as a whole is a great one, but the middle is almost insufferable with the story of his hospitalization and marriage. Nabokov did a great job portraying post-revolutionary Russian emigre and their scattered lives in Europe, but most of the characters seem to fall a little flat in the end. Luzhin himself somehow exists dually in my mind as...more
Michael David
This is the first Vladimir Nabokov novel I read.

I didn't like the plot of Lolita, so I abstained. I love chess, however, and I love a well-told story. This novel has both. Vladimir Nabokov is indeed brilliant: his character study of a genius tormented by his obsession yet made human because of his love is wonderfully wrought. Chess fans, fans of well-written literature, or both, should read this well-done novel. I don't think it's as thematically perfect as some novels I've read, but its executi...more
This was a really good book. It didn't necessarily move me a ton, and it wasn't necessarily the best book I've ever read, but it was still really good.

Nabokov paints some really, really interesting portraits here.

Personally, I think the biggest mistake one can make while reading this book is to assume Nabokov is making a particular point. I don't think this book has anything to, "say," about chess or madness or early Soviet mindsets or emigre mindsets in general.

All of these things play at le...more
Apollo's Crow
An awkward and unusual boy grows into an awkward and unusual chess champion. This is an early Russian novel of Nabokov's, translated with his help, and while it is not as deeply probing or as refined as his later English work, it features his trademark prose and his dream-like fascination with obsession, disconnection and tragedy. Bonus chess metaphors made this a no-brainer for me - I always get more interested in chess during the winter.
Jeff Lanter
Sometimes you want to read a book for a long time and your expectations about it grow day by day. After reading Lolita in grad school, I've wanted to read more Nabokov and the premise of this book intrigued me greatly. A chess master who goes crazy? Sign me up. Unfortunately, this book lacks a lot of things that made me love Nabokov. The prose is relatively dry and straightforward. The main character Luzhin is a bit too much of an enigma for the book's good. Sometimes his mysterious nature is en...more
Mark Broadhead
Not a remarkable novel. In fact, quite innocuous and tedious. The eponymous character is quixotic. Rather than romance novels, however, reality is occluded by chess. Although a novel about chess, chess itself doesn't feature as much as you would expect. The characters themselves are only slightly more complex than chess pieces. Their interactions are less complex than that found in a schoolboy chess game.
Don't have a lot to say about this one. It was enjoyable, and I felt a lot of identification with the main character. On the other hand, it was a little tedious at times, and I felt the style was a little overdone. That may be because I had just read Hemingway before. I think I will re-read this at some time.
Nabokov is probably the most soporific of the classic Russian authors. Not exactly boring, but just like a calming sedative. It's the overtly flowery language I think, which is absolutely fine style wise, but doesn't ever seem to reach a clear point. It just lulls you as you try to stay on the thread of his story; he clearly has a turn of phrase or two in his pocket though.

But I mainly find it very difficult to read him because of his apparent refusal to have anything approaching character devel...more
A story of an ill fated chess genius. This quote by Oscar Levant pretty much sums it up:

"There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line."
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Nabokov in Three ...: Initial Impressions 1 15 Oct 08, 2011 01:50AM  
  • Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years
  • Petersburg
  • Envy
  • Black Snow
  • The Petty Demon
  • The Golovlyov Family
  • Eugene Onegin, Vol. I (Text)
  • The Selected Poems
  • The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • Novel with Cocaine
  • The Duel and Other Stories
  • Memories of the Future
  • Golden Calf
  • The Adolescent
  • The Yellow Arrow
  • Diary of a Superfluous Man
  • Happy Moscow
  • Selected Poems
Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков

Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as his most important novel, and is at any rate his most widely known one, exhibiting the love of intrica...more
More about Vladimir Nabokov...
Lolita Pale Fire Pnin Invitation to a Beheading Speak, Memory

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“The recollection also came back empty, and for the first time in all his life, perhaps, Luzhin asked himself the question – where exactly had it all gone, what had become of his childhood, whither had the veranda floated, whither, rustling through the bushes, had the familiar paths crept away?” 2 likes
“Any future is unknown – but sometimes it acquires a particular fogginess, as if some other force had come to the aid of destiny's natural reticence and distributed this resilient fog, from which thought rebounds.” 2 likes
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