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The Luzhin Defense

The Luzhin Defense - Vladimir Nabokov 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 better author. Either way, while some of his talent for word smithing is there, it holds only a pale fire to Lolita. The theme of the book adds to the stereotype that Russians are obsessed with chess. To it's credit though, The Defense makes a solid case for why such an obsession might be rational. Despite the game being the protagonist Luzhin's demise, it is presented as such a fascinating contest that I couldn't help but to break out a chess set and see if I didn't have the potential for grandmastery myself. I got a little ego boost by cleanly drubbing my 7 year old, but it came with the distinct feeling that I should confine my forays into chess to the literary realm.For Luzhin, a guy who probably organizes his closet chronologically by purchase date, chess is more than a game. It becomes his life, it consumes him to the point where not even his devoted, Middlemarchian wife can rescue him from the obsession. Some of the best writing in the book describes his complete absorption in the game:Luzhin, preparing an attack for which it was first necessary to explore a maze of variations, where his every step aroused a perilous echo, began a long meditation: he needed, it seemed, to make one last prodigious effort and he would find the secret move leading to victory. Suddenly, something occurred outside his being, a scorching pain — and he let out a loud cry, shaking his hand stung by the flame of a match, which he had lit and forgotten to apply to his cigarette. The pain immediately passed, but in the fiery gap he had seen something unbearably awesome, the full horror of the abysmal depths of chess. He glanced at the chessboard and his brain wilted from hitherto unprecedented weariness. But the chessmen were pitiless, they held and absorbed him. There was horror in this, but in this also was the sole harmony, for what else exists in the world besides chess? Fog, the unknown, non-being... And later, maybe my favorite paragraph of the bok comes when Luzhin is descending back into his affliction. This is where the writing in The Defense seems to come closest to Lolita:But the next move was prepared very slowly. The lull continued for two or three days; Luzhin was photographed for his passport, and the photographer took him by the chin, turned his face slightly to one side, asked him to open his mouth wide and drilled his tooth with a tense buzzing. The buzzing ceased, the dentist looked for something on a glass shelf, found it, rubber-stamped Luzhin's passport and wrote with lightning-quick movements of the pen. 'There,' he said, handing over a document on which two rows of teeth were drawn, and two teeth bore inked-in little crosses. There was nothing suspicious in all this and the cunning lull continued until Thursday. And on Thursday, Luzhin understood everything.It's a good book. It's not what I hoped for from Nabokov, but for almost any other author it'd be a summit.Oh, and if you'd like to read the book without knowing the entire plot first, do NOT read Nabokov's introduction. Without warning he gives away all of the major turns in the book then casually reveals the ending to top it off.