Keys to The Gift: A Guide to Vladimir Nabokov's Novel

Keys to The Gift: A Guide to Vladimir Nabokov's Novel

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Yuri Leving

Series: Studies in Russian and Slavic Literatures, Cultures and History
ISBN: 9781934843116 (hardcover) / 9781934843970 (paper)
Pages: 564 pp.
Publication Date: August 2011

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Yuri Leving’s Keys to The Gift: A Guide to Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel is a new systematization of the main available data on Nabokov’s most complex Russian novel, The Gift (1934–1939). From notes in Nabokov’s private correspondence to scholarly articles accumulated during the seventy years since the novel’s first appearance in print, this work draws from a broad spectrum of existing material in a succinct and coherent way and provides innovative analyses. The first part of the monograph, “The Novel,” outlines the basic properties of The Gift (plot, characters, style, and motifs) and reconstructs its internal chronology. The second part, “The Text,” describes the creation of the novel and the history of its publication, public and critical reaction, challenges of English translation, and post-Soviet reception. Along with annotations to all five chapters of The Gift, the commentary provides insight into problems of paleography, featuring a unique textological analysis of the novel based on the author’s study of the archival copy of the manuscript.


Yuri Leving earned his PhD (summa cum laude) in 2002, at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He came to Dalhousie University after two years teaching at The George Washington University (2004-2006). His main field of interest is Russian literature, culture and film. Leving is the author of Train Station - Garage - Hangar: Vladimir Nabokov and Poetics of Russian Urbanism (2004, Short-listed for Andrey Bely Prize) and Upbringing by Optics: Book Illustration, Animation, and Text (2010). He also co-edited three volumes of articles, The Goalkeeper: The Nabokov Almanac (2010), Empire N. Nabokov and Heirs (2006), and Eglantine: Collection of Philological Essays to Honor the Sixtieth Anniversary of Roman Timenchik (2005).


For those wishing to embark on serious study of The Gift, Leving’s Keys is a vital and invaluable starting place.
— Stephen H. Blackwell, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; in the Slavonic and Eastern European Review, Vol. 91, No. 2, April 2013
. . . a passionate tribute to one of the great literary masterpieces in the twentieth century. . . . Leving’s book provides a detailed introduction to The Gift, which ties together two hundred years of Russian traditions and Nabokov’s personal experiences. It will be valuable for undergraduates and non-specialists as well as those who do not have the Nabokovian expertise to decode the intricately interwoven components of the novel on their own. Moreover, Leving’s encyclopedic approach will be useful as a general guideline for undergraduates on how to read and analyze classic literature.’
— Kiun Hwang, University of Pittsburgh, in the Slavic and Eastern European Journal, 57.1 (Spring 2013)
Yuri Leving’s meticulous dissection of Nabokov’s last Russian novel, The Gift, fully vindicates his claim for it as ‘one of the masterpieces of twentieth century modernist literature,’ fit to stand beside Joyce’s Ulysses for the allusive richness of its content and the musicality of its prose. In seven richly fact-filled chapters, Leving has unearthed a wealth of historical, chronological, biographical, textological, literary critical and bibliographical material to bolster his case, and like a scrupulous archeologist, uncovers the multiple layers of Nabokov’s complex creation to illustrate and illuminate its artistic essence. In its masterly marshaling of evidence, Leving’s work is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon.
— Michael Scammell, the author of Solzhenitsyn, A Biography (1984) and Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual (2010), the translator of The Gift into English
In this hefty compendium Yuri Leving has assembled a stupendous amount of information about The Gift, Nabokov’s ninth novel, the last to be written in Russian. . . . Leving’s guide is…a valuable resource for teaching The Gift, enabling a visual reconstitution of Nabokov’s Russian Berlin and identifying multiple layers of allusions hitherto explicated (elegantly by the amazing Dolinin) only in Russian.
— Priscilla Meyer
Prof. Yuri Leving’s book on Nabokov’s magisterial The Gift is a masterpiece in itself, the last–and definitive–word on the subject.
— Alexander Theroux, the author of Darconville’s Cat (1980) and Laura Warholic (2007), the literary critic of The Wall Street Journal