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The Luzhin Defense

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  9,187 ratings  ·  448 reviews
A chilling story of obsession and madness. Luzhin, a distracted, withdrawn boy, takes up chess as a refuge from everyday life. As he rises to the heights of grandmaster, the game of chess gradually supplants the world of reality as he moves inexorably towards madness.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 11th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1929)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  9,187 ratings  ·  448 reviews

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Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: slavic
Its Never Too Late for a Happy Childhood

A boy who doesnt want to grow up; a mother who loses interest in him as he does; a father who writes an idealised version of the boys life in which he doesnt; and an agent who values only his clients youthfulness: clearly not the best conditions for psychic maturation; but hardly signs of abuse.

The boy finds his solace and calling in the game of chess: everything apart from chess was an enchanting dream... Real life, chess life, was orderly, clear cut, and
Steven Godin
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The combination of Chess and Nabokov seemed to me a match made in heaven, a big fan of both, this was just too tempting to turn down, even though I knew it would take something pretty remarkable to reach the heights of either 'Pale Fire' or 'Lolita', I still felt like reading what is one of his earlier Russian novels (his third written in 1930) before he embarked on his American odyssey.

The Luzhin Defence is a book that does features chess, but doesn't delve too deeply into the actual playing
One of the things I like most about Nabokovs novels is the structure, and this one has a particularly interesting structure.

At the beginning of chapter nine which is roughly half way through the book, two new characters appear out of nowhere, two young Berliners who are trying to return home after a hard night on the town. Both of them continued farther along the deserted night street, which alternately rose up smoothly to the stars and then sloped down again.

That deserted night street could
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it

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.
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Luzhin Defense, Vladimir Nabokov
The Luzhin Defense is the third novel written by Vladimir Nabokov during his emigration to Berlin, published in 1930. The plot concerns the title character, Aleksandr Ivanovich Luzhin. As a boy, he is considered unattractive, withdrawn, and an object of ridicule by his classmates. One day, when a guest comes to his father's party, he is asked whether he knows how to play chess. This encounter serves as his motivation to pick up chess. He skips school and
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
"Let's start if you're willing."
-- Vladimir Nabokov, The Luzhin Defense


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 Nabokovs 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
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, fiction, nabokov
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.
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: oulipo-mo
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 ...more
Aug 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Not as impressive as Lolita, but still a solid read. Mostly, I was bored and confused with the direction of the plot. Well, almost non-existent plot. Luzhin is supposed to be compelling and intriguing, but he's non of the above. Also, the ending isn't even nearly satisfying and I feel like I'm left hanging.

This is a story about an obsessed chess player who doesn't distinguish reality from imagination. Basically, the plot deals with the story of a genius, whose perception of life entwines with
Over the last few weeks Ive 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 cant stop myself.

We have here a chess player, a doctor who might or might not have murdered a wife and a chickenhead. They all
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
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 didnt let the sumptuous prose slowly unfold, I didnt delicately caress his sentences with the same narcissistic mania the author bestowed upon his own works. But there wasnt much sumptuousness here, anyway. His third novel is a more
Oct 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
3.50 stars

Primarily I decided to read "The Luzhin Defense" as Vladimir Nabokov's sixth novel (after "Collected Stories," "King, Queen, Knave," "Lolita," "Pnin," and "Laughter in the Dark") for two reasons, (1) I'd like to read one of his novels and compare it to his "Lolita," and (2) I liked its reader-friendly fonts which I found more relaxing and easier to read than some of those published by Penguin or other English paperback publishing companies in general. However, a bit disappointed by its
Apr 07, 2011 added it
Shelves: read-in-2011
If Nabokov's second novel reminded me of one of my favorite writersMarcel Prousthis 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 his ...more
Jul 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, russian
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 ...more
Sep 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian
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.
Thomas Hübner
Sep 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

"What struck him most was the fact that from Monday on he would be Luzhin."

These words mark a beginning and an end - the beginning of Vladimir Nabokov's novel The Luzhin Defense and the end of the probably happiest period in the life of the protagonist when he was the pampered only child of a wealthy St. Petersburg family in pre-revolutionary Russia, living the protected existence of children of this class, when life seemed to be a long holiday. But time is
Nov 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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."
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Take an ecstatic man speaking rapturously from his pulpit. To his converts, this can enrich and reward as the words lure them inbut, 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 arms
Branko Nikovski
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nabokov-bulgakov
The story of love ; not the conventional human love , but the love of the obsession , the obsession for the chess , resolving the problems through the analytics , rationalization and deduction. A story about a loner boy that discovers chess ; negating the reality and indifferent to everything and everyone , the loner boy named Luzhin immersed in the intellectual abyss of this analytical game ; his obsession brings him to champions titles and his games are considered immortal and aesthetically ...more
Frank Hestvik
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it

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
Kshitij Joshi
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russia, literary-gems, nba
There are two ways to review this book.

1. Smarter way: Listen to Abel Korzeniowski's concert piece Song for the Little Sparrow . It speaks in the language of music far beautifully and better than what I could write in English.

2. Duller way: I'll endeavour to do justice to this magnificent piece of tragic fiction through a poor reviewer's small vocabulary and a style that isn't nearly enough to capture the romance of letters from this Russian grand-master of prose. There is so much to learn from
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've read many but not all of his novels; just added this one to my collection. Because it was written originally in Russian, then translated much later, this one deprives English speakers of the expert and exquisite wordplay we get in the novels he wrote in English (though I'm certain that quality is there in the original Russian). And though the wordplay does always delight me, in this case the lack only leaves clearer the story, the characters, the feelings of this affecting tragedy about ...more
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
The observations by writer are really fascinating...
Petruccio Hambasket IV
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think Nabokov is a pretentious and intolerable man (he's also a lubberly lout, a lickorous glutton, a freckled bittor, a mangy rascal, a scrawny scoundrel, a drunken royster, a sly knave, a drowsy loiterer, a forlorn snake, a ninny lobcocks, a scurvy sneaksby, a fondling fop, a base loon, a saucy coxcombs, a idle lusk, and a scoffing braggart: although that's neither here nor there), but I happen to find the subject matter enthralling so I gave this one a whirl. And here's the thing about the ...more
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 wasnt alone. Now Im 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
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Harsha Varma
Reading Nabokov has to be one of the truest pleasures in literature. I have never come across a writer with a better command over the English language; one, who transcends the language barrier to make it art-like. For example, take the immaculate use of metaphors throughout his novels. In the Luzhin's defense, the world championship match between Luzhin and Turati (the main competitor) is incredibly well written. During the match, Luzhin is hunting for his next move. Nabokov paints a great ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: navel-gazing
(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
Brent Legault
Oct 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков .

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. 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 a big interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is

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