The Defense, Nabokov’s third novel, established him as the leading new writer of the Russian emigration. As the novel opens, Luzhin, a gloomy, friendless lad, learns that he must start public school in St. Petersburg. The boy soon begins cutting school to visit the home of his vivacious aunt, where he learns to play chess. When his father learns of his secretive son’s gift, he launches the boy’s career as a chess prodigy. Under the strain, Luzhin eventually falls ill and is taken to a German spa to recuperate. As it happens, a major international chess tournament is in progress there, and the boy becomes an international star.
Sixteen years pass before the reader again meets an unkempt, thirty-year-old Luzhin, who finds himself once again at this same resort. A homeless international wanderer who can barely cope with life’s ordinary demands, Luzhin has returned to the resort to prepare for a major chess tournament in Berlin. At the resort the boorish, inarticulate Luzhin meets a young woman who is not put off by his eccentricities. After a bizarre courtship, Luzhin leaves for Berlin. For the first time in many years, he plays brilliantly, moving toward a play-off with his nemesis Turati, who has previously defeated him. Luzhin has even prepared a special defense against his opponent. At length, the final game begins, but Turati does not make the expected opening attack. When the game is adjourned for the night, the exhausted Luzhin...
(The entire section is 570 words.)