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Vladimir Nabokov: Защита Лужина (The Luzhin Defense; The Defense)

Aleksandr Luzhin is not a loveable child. He is shy, plain looking and teased by the other boys. A guest of his father asks him if he can play chess. He cannot but soon learns and, then, over a relatively short period of time becomes a chess champion. However, like other Nabokov heroes, he becomes obsessed, in this case with the various chess moves and strategies. And, of course, it takes over his world, his life, leaving him unable to cope. When he has to play the Italian, Turati, for the world championship, he has a breakdown and quits chess. The only anchor in his life is his wife, Natalia, and she tries to help him, keeping away from chess. But he sees things that remind him of chess and plays games in his head. Eventually, he has a final breakdown and kills himself. Nabokov’s portrayal of an obsession and of a man who cannot cope with reality outside his obsession is well worth reading. This book was the one that gave Nabokov his first real success and was the best of his books originally written in Russian.

Publishing history

First published 1930 by Slovo, Berlin
First English translation 1964 by Putnam/Weidenfeld and Nicolson