Toker, Leona. “"To Define is to Distrust": Intertextual Ambiguity in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and James Joyce's Ulysses.” In Strategies of Ambiguity, 291-305. Ed. Matthias Bauer and Angelika Zirker. New York: Routlege, 2023. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In the final episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Molly Bloom recollects how, in response to a priest’s question “where,” she returned an answer not about a part of her body but about a geographical location. This alludes to an episode of similar cross purposes of Widow Wadman and Uncle Toby in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. The interplay between the two texts is associated with the positive valorization of ambiguity on the part of the narrator of Tristram Shandy. In Sterne’s novel, legal and contractual definitions which seek to eliminate all ambiguity are, like Uncle Toby’s fortifications, a temptation for the forces of entropy: instead of shielding the characters from the intrusions of chance, they expose Tristram to serio-comic catastrophes. In Ulysses disambiguation is not a defensive but an offensive weapon (“Unsheathe your dagger definitions”; 238). In both cases, but particularly in Ulysses, the valorization of ambiguity in discourse is parallel to structural ambiguities that give rise to diametrically opposite readings. Ambiguity emerges not just as a matter of narrative rhetoric but as a feature of the creative impulse behind the story worlds, and as a challenge to the ethics of reading.

Toker, Leona. “Not Typical but Typifying: Varlam Shalamov's 'A Piece of Meat'.” In Witnessing the Witness of War Crimes, Mass Murder, an Genocide, 239-248. ed. Manuela Consonni and Philip Galland Nord, Berlin: de Gryuter, 2023. Publisher's Version
Toker, Leona. “Anatoly Kuznetsov, Author of Babi Yar: The History of the Book and the Fate of the Author.” Eastern European Holocaust Studies 1 (2023). Publisher's VersionAbstract

This Introduction to the special issue devoted to Anatoly Kuznetsov, author of Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel, dwells on the different aspects of the book’s importance, surveys the life of the author as intertwined with the history of this book, suggests a way of reading his other work in the light of Babi Yar, and notes the contributions of the articles collected in this issue.

Toker, Leona. “Direct Speech in Conrad’s A Personal Record.” The Conradian 47, no. 2 (2022): 67-81.Abstract

In order to maintain the factographic pact with the reader, in non-fiction narratives the authors tend to refrain from relying on the “perfect-memory convention.” In particular, memoirs (prominently including Conrad’s narratives) tend to avoid detailed prolonged dialogues, and direct speech in them usually takes the form of memorable phrases or statements (sound bites) that are supposed to have engraved themselves in the author’s memory. In Conrad’s autobiographical works this tendency is complicated by the fact that some of the sound-bites are translations from other languages (hence with a touch of fictionalization, enhanced by an occasional withholding of names and other verification landmarks). Yet the more extensive use of direct speech in Conrad's A Personal Record may be associated with specific artistic goals or else with the author's keen awareness of touches of fictionalization.

О ценностях и о цене" ["On Values and on the Price"]. Foreword to vol. 3 of the 6-volume edition of Georgy Demidov's works.” In Любовь за колючей проволокой (Собрание сочинений Георгия Демидова в 6-ти томах), 3:10-16. Moscow: Gulag History Museum / Ivan Limbach, 2022.
Partial Answers Is 20 Years Old!.” Partial Answers 20, no. 2 (2022): 187-190. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Introduction to the anniversary issue of Partial Answers

אחרית דבר [Afterword].” In אדה: כרוניקה משפחתית [Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle], by Vladimir Nabokov; trans. Daphna Rosenbluth, 547-555. Jerusalem: Carmel, 2022.
Toker, Leona. “Success Is a Private Matter: Nabokov's Christmas Stories.” Neophilologus, no. 106 (2022): 349-361. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In the 1920s, during his émigré life in interbellum Berlin, Vladimir Nabokov wrote a number of Christmas stories. These stories—“Christmas,” “The Christmas Story,” and “A Reunion”—were all composed and published at Christmastime and set on the eve of Russian Christmas (first week of January). While involving the traditional motifs of the Christmas-story genre, such as the combination of joy and sorrow as well as the motifs of epiphany, gift, care, and forgiveness, these narratives expand the scope of the genre to represent not communal religious values but a private ethical stance. The purity of commitments emerges as a criterion for successful inner life. The gifts are usually the gifts of the memory, cherished in “Christmas” and “A Reunion,” and forfeited in “The Christmas Story,” as well as in a counter-story, “A Matter of Chance,” which was also written at Christmas time but set August and published with half a year’s delay.

Toker, Leona. “The Issue of “Softening” and the Problem of Addressivity in Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov.” In The Gulag in Writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov, ed. Fabian Heffermehl and Irina Karlsohn, 271-288. Leiden: Brill, 2021.
Toker, Leona. “Israel.” In Philip Roth in Context, ed. Maggie McKinley, 150–59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.
Toker, Leona. “Urban Intelligentsia in A Tale of Two Cities.” In Critical Insights: A Tale of Two Cities, ed. Robert C. Evans, 79–92. Ipswich, MA: Salem House, 2021.
Toker, Leona. “Representation of Jewish Characters in Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales.” The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2021. Publisher's Version
Toker, Leona. “Paralipsis and Intention(ality).” Neohelicon (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract

When Gérard Genette drew the distinction between “voice” and “focus” in narrative, he pointed to two kinds of deviation from the monitoring of narrative details based on focalization. One is “paralepsis,” that is, giving the reader more information than is available to the focal character; the other is “paralipsis” – giving the reader less information than the focal character possesses. This paper suggests that the content of paralipsis – what the focal character knows but the reader is not told – is often the intentions and concrete plans of the focal character. The paper discusses the ending of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1959) as a paradigmatic case: the precise intentions of Sydney Carton are not disclosed to the reader; the second reading is therefore qualitatively different from the first reading; and the intentions of the author (the implied author or even the historical author) for this temporary gap invite interpretation and raise the issue of the reasons and the causes for this feature of the narrative as a communicative act.

Toker, Leona. “Literary Stereography: Nabokov Drawing and Reading Maps.” Partial Answers 19, no. 2 (2021): 361-369. Publisher's VersionAbstract


According to Vladimir Nabokov, exactness of detail in the composition and the reading of literary texts can yield “the sensual spark without which the book is dead”: one needs, for instance, to understand the topography of Mansfield Park in order to respond to Austen’s “stereographic charm.” Speaking after Stuart Gilbert’s chart of the episodes of Joyce’s Ulysses but before Gifford and Seidman’s maps in Ulysses Annotated, Nabokov protested against “the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings” and advised careful readers to “prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.” Nabokov himself draws maps in his (posthumously published) lecture notes of the 1950s. This paper comments on the “stereographic” implications of his maps and then turns to Nabokov’s biography of Pushkin’s African great grandfather. Studying the possible origins of Abram Gannibal, Nabokov reads maps of Ethiopia. Though his essay is largely a matter of the critique of sources, the course of Ethiopian river-beds seems to give him “the sensual spark” which, despite his vexed insistence on the literal in Ulysses, follows Joyce’s novel in understated transmutation of stereographic detail into symbolism. 


Toker, Leona. “Metaphors of Confinement: The Prison in Fact, Fiction, and Fantasy, by Monika Fludernik.” Partial Answers 19, no. 1 (2021): 192-196. Publisher's VersionAbstract

book review

Toker, Leona. “Richard Tempest, Overwriting Chaos: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Fictive Worlds..” The Russian Review 79, no. 4 (2020): 665-666.Abstract

Book review

Toker, Leona. “Irina Astashkevich, Gendered Violence: Jewish Women in the Pogroms of 1917 to 1921.” Antisemitism Studies 4, no. 2 (2020): 403-407.Abstract

book review

Toker, Leona. “"Bruised Fists": A Shift of Values in Nabokov's Fiction in the Late 1930s.” Krug: Journal of the Vladimir Nabokov Society of Japan 12 (2020): 1-20.Abstract


The work of writers in exile is generally expected to display the theme of nostalgia and the techniques of defamiliarization. It is seldom noted that the experience of a young emigrant is sometimes characterized by bouts of overwhelming poignant happiness, of joy yielded by the senses in response to the natural or even urban scenes. This happiness, against the background of a near-sublime self-sufficiency, is a distinctive feature of Nabokov’s experience of the twenties, despite the painful blows that he received; it is a recurrent theme in his poetry, fiction, and letters. By the late 1930s, for a variety of personal and political reasons, the waves of joy become rare. Instead, Nabokov’s other capacities deepen and gain further development, a modified axiology partly replacing the youthful happiness or compensating for the infrequency of its returns. This paper is devoted to the shift of emphases in Nabokov’s poetics and his thematic concerns after he could no longer base his eschatology on a recurrent experience of joyful oneness with the world.    


Toker, Leona. “Nezakonnaia kometa. Varlam Shalamov: Opyt medlennoto chteniya, by Elena Mikhailik.” Slavic Review 79, no. 2 (2020): 485-486.Abstract

book review

Toker, Leona. “Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Red Wheel. Node III: March 1917, Book 2 (book review).” The Russian Review 70, no. 3 (2020): 487-488.Abstract

book review