Vladimir Nabokov: Дар (The Gift)
Nabokov’s last Russian novel is considered by some to be his best Russian novel. It is certainly his most difficult and most complex. A familiarity with Russian literature and history is most helpful in following it. It is the story of Fedor Godunov-Cherdyntsev, a Russian writer. He starts by writing verse and then tries to write a biography of his father, a famous naturalist and explorer, who disappeared in Central Asia. He abandons this idea, feeling he cannot be sufficiently objective. At this points, he meets Zina and falls in love with her. His literary attention now turns to Nikolai Chernyshevski, the real life socialist realist literary critic. We actually get to read the biography, though it did not appear in the original Russian text. It is not too flattering of Chernyshevski. Indeed, Fyodor/Nabokov could be said to be mocking him. Fyodor then plans to write a novel, which, we presume, will be the one we are reading. In his foreword, Nabokov says Its heroine is not Zina, but Russian literature. The novel is a love story and it is also the portrait of an artist developing artistically. But Nabokov does play around with Russian literature, with references, snippets and allusions throughout. I am not sure, at least for a non-Russian, whether it is his best Russian novel but it is certainly an interesting read.
First published 1952 by Chekhov, New York
First English translation 1963 by Putnam