This early novel was written in 1935-37, mostly in Berlin. Despite Nabokov's brief disclaiming preface (not about himself, but about Russian literature), the book is about a Russian emigre in Berlin, learning about writing and the writer's world and it is perhaps closer to autobiography than any of the later novels. Young Fyodor, in Berlin, examines his first published book of verse (his side-memories are more brilliant); he meets other hopeful emigre authors; he remembers his vanished father (a brilliant section); and after experimenting with the styles of Gogol and Pushkin, he finally publishes a brilliant, elliptic biography of another writer (given in full) which receives mixed reviews. Meanwhile, in real life, he is involved with eccentric people and in a halfhearted affair. There are also his dreams and memories and this complex mirror-relation between reality and the writer's read-thought-borrowed world is so densely detailed and privately seen that it is sometimes almost unreadable- a technical difficulty Nabokov also solves in due course. The book is demanding, in its private questioning and brilliant problem-solving and it is a fascinating lesson in the truly staggering number of possible ways of writing and seeing.