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1. Lolita
2. Laughter in the Dark
3. Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos
4. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
5. Pnin (Everyman's Library Classics
6. Pale Fire (Everyman's Library
7. Mary
8. Invitation to a Beheading
9. Nikolai Gogol
10. Speak, Memory (Everyman's Library
11. The Luzhin Defense
12. Transparent Things
13. Look at the Harlequins!
14. Despair
15. Lolita
16. The Annotated Lolita: Annotated
17. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
18. The Original of Laura
19. The Gift
20. Verses and Versions: Three Centuries

1. Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 336 Pages (1989-03-13)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$6.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679723161
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
The hilarious and tragic story of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged Russian man who feels passion only for young the "nymphet" Dolores Haze, whom he renames Lolita.Amazon.com Review
Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures ofLolita are as much intellectual as erogenous. It is a love story with the power to raiseboth chuckles and eyebrows. Humbert Humbert is a European intellectualadrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When hemeets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, heconstructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid ofher mother.In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be moreslippery than Humbert's feverish fantasies, and Lolita refuses to conformto his image of the perfect lover.

Playfully perverse in form as well as content, riddled with puns andliterary allusions, Nabokov's 1955 novel is a hymn to the Russian-bornauthor's delight in his adopted language. Indeed, readers who want to probeall of its allusive nooks and crannies will need to consult the annotated edition. Lolita is undoubtedly, brazenly erotic, but the eroticism springsless from the "frail honey-hued shoulders ... the silky supple bare back" oflittle Lo than it does from the wantonly gorgeous prose that Humbert usesto recount his forbidden passion:

She was musical and apple-sweet ... Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring herimmemorial fruit, singing through its juice ... and every movement she made,every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secretsystem of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty--between mygagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocentcotton frock.
Much has been made of Lolita as metaphor, perhaps because the loveaffair at its heart is so troubling. Humbert represents the formal,educated Old World of Europe, while Lolita is America: ripening, beautiful,but not too bright and a little vulgar. Nabokov delights in exploring theintercourse between these cultures, and the passages where Humbertdescribes the suburbs and strip malls and motels of postwar America arefilled with both attraction and repulsion, "those restaurants where theholy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the cute paper napkins andcottage-cheese-crested salads." Yet however tempting the novel's symbolismmay be, its chief delight--and power--lies in the character of HumbertHumbert. He, at least as he tells it, is no seedy skulker, no twisteddestroyer of innocence. Instead, Nabokov's celebrated mouthpiece is eruditeand witty, even at his most depraved. Humbert can't help it--linguisticjouissance is as important to him as the satisfaction of hisarrested libido. --Simon Leake ... Read more

Customer Reviews (519)

4-0 out of 5 stars Review of Nabokov's 'Lolita'
The work itself is of course wonderful. Lolita will emerge as a classic. However, I wish that Vintage would have found a scholar to write an introduction to this 50th anniversary edition. Nabokov's writing is great, but also brief, and leaves the reader with unanswered questions.

2-0 out of 5 stars Mediocre writing dressed up with pseudo-poetics
I was not very impressed with this book at all.I found the writing to be much too artificial.At the very first paragraph of Humbert's narrative, I found myself a bit put off by the self-conscious, pseudo-poetic style.The prose is packed with puns, fanciful turns of phrase, and allusions to the point that I often found it annoying to read.I suppose there are some who get giddy over that sort of thing, and imagine that it means they are reading something sophisticated, but to me it seemed forced and artificial.Conjoined with an essentially boring story, the style made the book a task to read.I put pages behind me as a chore, rather than looking forward to reading them.

Yes, I said the story is boring.It's a road-trip novel dressed up in avant-garde, edgy, "boundary pushing" clothing. The wanderings of Humbert and Dolores over these vast United States of America, with a splash of pedophilia and subtle sexual references to make people gasp a little and imagine they are reading something Very Mature and Profound.

I went into this book with a mixture of trepidation and hopefulness. I was open to the possibility of reading an engaging tale about a monstrous act, told from the point of view of a wicked protagonist.On the other hand, I was well aware that a book about such a titillating subject is likely to have a reputation far beyond its actual literary merits, simply because so many people will be taken in by the lure of the forbidden topic that they will overlook its huge flaws.

My trepidation was strongly confirmed.I simply did not find this book interesting.I can't imagine that if you changed the premise and put Lolita at the age of consent, that many people would find this book worthy at all.The same writing coupled with a less lascivious premise would simply have flopped.

I can only wonder why so many people get such a thrill out of reading something they feel is taboo, that this kind of writing gets such praise.There is a tendency of fans of this book to accuse those who don't like it of having some kind of moral hangup, of merely objecting to the premise.But it's quite the reverse: those who love this book are hung up so much on the premise, that they can't get past it to see the writing.

The book had its moments, but ultimately it was unsatisfying, annoying in some places, and simply disappointing.I did not find myself engrossed, or even grossed out, just more or less bored.It did not entertain me, it did not challenge me, it did not edify me, it did not thrill me, it did not horrify me or fill me with bliss.It left me with an empty feeling, kind of like how you feel when it's lunchtime and you only had a cup of coffee for breakfast.When I finished the last page, all I could think was, "Thank God, now I can find something interesting to read!"

5-0 out of 5 stars What can you say?
Considered one of the best books of the twentieth century, Lolita was written about midway through that century and has garnered enormous critical, scholarly, media and popular attention.Probably little more can be added to the libraries already written about Lolita, except that it a highpoint of literature, a singularly brilliant, surprising, accomplished and even funny work that remains in the mind years after reading. A few critics recognized its genius when first it was published, like Lionell Trilling, but it took timebefore the beauty and agility of its prose vaulted it over the middlebrow prejudices of the 'fifties. Lolita, Nabokov's satire on America as he motors over its landscape oddly rendered surrealistic by his aesthetic European sensibilities and amoral worldview, is a treasure that is not likely to be equalled or approached soon.

3-0 out of 5 stars Lolita
This item was listed as free shipping, and ordered on September 2nd.I find out that it won't be shipped until September 20th...I won't order free shipping again and will probably look elsewhere to buy.This is rediculous!

5-0 out of 5 stars excellent book
One of the best books I've ever read. Excellent on so many levels. Highly recommended. ... Read more

2. Laughter in the Dark
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 308 Pages (2006-09-17)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$7.48
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0811216748
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The classic novel from the author of Lolita, brilliantly portraying one man's ruin through love and betrayal."Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster." Thus begins Vladimir Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark; this, the author tells us, is the whole story—except that he starts from here, with his characteristic dazzling skill and irony, and brilliantly turns a fable into a chilling, original novel of folly and destruction. Amidst a Weimar-era milieu of silent film stars, artists, and aspirants, Nabokov creates a merciless masterpiece as Albinus, an aging critic, falls prey to his own desires, to his teenage mistress, and to Axel Rex, the scheming rival for her affections who finds his greatest joy in the downfall of others.

Published first in Russian as Kamera Obskura in 1932, this book appeared in Nabokov's own English translation six years later. This New Directions edition, based on the text as Nabokov revised it in 1960, features a new introduction by Booker Prize-winner John Banville. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (41)

5-0 out of 5 stars Perfection
It is a story we have all heard before; man leaves his wife for something better, fate comes back and bites him in the butt. However, in Vladimir Nabokov's "Laughter in the Dark," readers are presented with a wonderfully simple yet horribly dark rendition of this common tale. We are told the entire story in the first two sentences of the novel, but Nabokov finds a way to weave readers through his tale through the use of very real dialogue and clever narration.

It must be said that, to an extent, Nabokov's novel is predictable. To me, this enhanced the reading however because I never found myself struggling to figure out what was going on. I was able to focus more on the genius of the author's simple writing style. He has worked his language in a way that I have never before seen, and has thrown in a few unforgettable lines that I found myself reading over again out of pure enjoyment: "A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish-but there was no diamond inside. That's what I like about coincidence."

"Laughter in the Dark" is perfection. Nabokov writes in a most enjoyable fashion. It is easy enough to read in one sitting, yet strong enough to have the reader stop and think about it when they finish. I find myself wanting to read it over again in order to fully take in Nabokov's masterpiece, writing style and plot included. Nothing can or should be changed about this book. Its simplicity is a refreshing break from the norm, its plot is perfectly predictable, and its ending is pure genius.

5-0 out of 5 stars A novel to rival Lolita, if you give it a chance!
I first read Nabokov's "Lolita" a year a half ago. Since I have been craving more of his writing. While I enjoyed the tragically entertaining story about the arrogant Humbert and crude Dolores it was actually Valdimir Nabokov's use of the English language - especially during Humbert's narratives - that I was intrigued. I searched multiple book stores for more of Nabokov's books but since have found next to nothing. I finally gave in (shipping costs have never appealed to me) and ordered two of his other novels recently - "Mary" and "Laughter in the Dark". I read "Mary" in three sittings of one hour. I enjoyed it, but I was hoping for something... better, I suppose you could say. Despite the fact I had high hopes for "Mary" (and they were not met), I had mediocre hopes for "Laughter in the Dark" and was not as compelled to read it due to a synopsis I had read. Well, one evening, I finally picked it up. I read this novel in four sittings of however long I could keep myself awake to keep reading. I found myself craving to read the next page, anticipating each new problem or twist. There are many points in the book where you can't help but laugh hysterically at the main character and his willingness to avoid seeing the truth/reality of several situations. Even toward the end when figurative becomes literal, and maybe you should feel some form of sympathy, his sheer stupidity keeps you laughing. Nabokov's characters here, very much like in "Lolita", weave their own webs of deceit and cruelty. (All honesty due, the end of the book is rather... predictable once you approach the last fifth of the book.)
If you enjoyed "Lolita" then "Laughter in the Dark" is a MUST READ for you. I enjoyed this story just as much, and let me share, I am incredibly picky.
Now I am in pursuit of a few more of his novels!

5-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
Laughter in the Dark struck me hard.I loved it, I couldn't put it down, I found it moving and beautiful.My roommate didn't love it quite so much, but still found it captivating.This might not be a great book for a first-time Nabokov reader.It is far more subtle than Lolita or Invitation to a beheading.It might require a somewhat advanced love of his writing to appreciate it.However, if you are already in the club, Laughter in the Dark has some incredibly written scenes.Nabokov is incredible at using one line to create a massive picture; this book highlights that.The last chapter is somewhat anti-climactic though.I think this might actually be my favorite Nabokov so far.

5-0 out of 5 stars Tragic but amuzing
No need for a lengthy review here, this book was amazing.Nabakov gives you the whole story in the first few sentences then leads you down this man's spiral to his demise.Tragic but wonderful.I would call it a must read.

5-0 out of 5 stars Deception & Despair:Call Thee Woman
This extraordinary novel is truly one work of fiction which represents life itself.Perhaps it could be considered Art imitating life.Nabokov uses a light and breezy style of writing to tell his tale of total deception and betrayal.It is quite the archetypal description of a more or less good man being defiled and destroyed by a wily and wicked lady who is intent on gaining for herself all that she can and providing for herself a life of leisure and comfort at the expense of so many other people.

The novel descriptively and expertly depicts how a man of substance is taken by a young wench who had been a sycophant upon others for her living.The man, Albinus, is taken by the young lady, Margot and he decides he must have her.Margot sees in Albinus, the opportunity to have her life made comfortable at Albinus' expense and she is not even satisfied to live with Albinus and provide him with love and comfort.No; her background as a virtual prostitute leads her to a life of debauchery and deception that only a woman of low breeding and character can impose upon a man.

She first manages to get the man to take her in.Then through a blatant and cunning little trick, she reveals her existence to the man's wife, so as to get her out of the way of her plan.The wife is so totally distraught that she leaves her husband and takes her daughter with her to live with her brother.But the wife's life becomes one of total depression and despair as every day she must face up to the reality that a young parasitic woman has wrested her husband away from her.

In a manner that can only be arranged by such a woman, she sets herself up in a hotel and carries on a flagrant sexual affair with another man, while staying with the husband, but not living with him as his loving mistress.No, she totally betrays him in every possible manner, particularly sexually.Her other paramour has been set up to deceive the husband into believing he is just a good friend and driver for the couple.But all along, the plan is to be secret lovers right under the nose of the husband who has chucked his former life of domestic tranquility for the love of what can only be described as a tart.

The story is very descriptive in Nabokov's usual unique style and goes on to describe the horrid depth of betrayal that she brings upon Albinus while making herself the recipient of all that he has to offer, including his money which he tricks him into laying out to her for supposed goods and services.The ultimate sexual betrayal scene is brilliantly depicted by Nabokov and elucidated in great and grand detail.Finally, Albinus senses that this horror story is truly going on and pulls Margot away from the hotel and into the car.During that ride, Albinus who is not a good driver and totally distressed to realize how he has been deceived by Margot, gets into an accident which results in his loss of sight.As an expert in Art from which he makes his living, this loss of his sight is just one more horrible betrayal laid upon him by Margot.

The book continues through more treacherous betrayal and more intense theft of Albinus' assets.The end of the story is most severe and horrid for Albinus and truly describes how a man can be taken to the lowest state of being by a woman who is intent on destroying him for her own devious and avaricious purposes.It is one thing when a woman seeks to live a life of leisure by capturing such a man and turning his head so he gives up his live, his wife, his children and all that came before so she can have him and live in total comfort as his mistress.But Nabokov takes it to the highest degree depicting a woman that is not even that kind to her man.She does not even attempt to make Albinus happy, but instead, carries on with others virtually immediately.

It shall be left to the reader to see how Margot achieves this masterful and disgusting accomplishment and what becomes of Albinus in the end.Yet Nabokov's pure genius in story telling is presented in this tale which so deeply captures a part of life that so many at some point experience, often to their total ruination.The tale is a quick reading and wonderful story which all Nabokov devotees should read so as to experience once again how Nabokov captures this true life experience in a story of fiction which could be the biography of all too many good men.The book is recommended for all Nabokov readers and all readers who wish to experience the ultimate betrayal in life by a woman.Only a woman could be this cruel and heartless, and as she is in this story, so it is in real life often as well.
... Read more

3. Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade
by Vladimir Nabokov, R. S. Gwynn
Paperback: 88 Pages (2010-11)
list price: US$29.95 -- used & new: US$19.77
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1584234318
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4. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 704 Pages (1996-12-09)
list price: US$19.00 -- used & new: US$9.97
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679729976
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
From the writer who shocked and delighted the world with his novels Lolita, Pale Fire, and so many others, comes a magnificent collection of stories. Written between the 1920s and 1950s, these sixty-five tales--eleven of which have been translated into English for the first time--display all the shades of Nabokov's imagination. They range from sprightly fables to bittersweet tales of loss, from claustrophobic exercises in horror to a connoisseur's samplings of the table of human folly. Read as a whole, The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov offers and intoxicating draft of the master's genius, his devious wit, and his ability to turn language into an instrument of ecstasy.Amazon.com Review
These stories, written between the early 1920s to themid-1950s, reveal the fascinating progress of Nabokov's earlydevelopment as they remind us that we are in the presence of amagnificent original, a genuine master.Edited by his son andtranslator, Dmitri Nabokov, this volume is a literary event. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (19)

1-0 out of 5 stars Love Nabokov, HORRIBLE binding.
My book was bound horribly. The glue was dried and squished out of the seams. It wasn't just one copy as I purchased two in two separate orders, one for myself and one for a gift. Go with another version as these new covers are not worth the crappy binding that will come apart within a year.

5-0 out of 5 stars Only after the food of the Gods has been sampled the epicurean is born
This book is incredible. It contains such mastery that honestly after reading it, I can't read anyone else. Everyone pales in comparison. Once you've tasted ambrosia, when you are kicked out of heaven (at page 642), you might, as I certainly have, come to see all other attempts at literature as somewhat incomplete, lacking, and even tasteless. Only after the food of the Gods has been sampled the epicurean is born. Dimitri's translation is just as good, with nuances you will never find anywhere in the English language. Ho-Ho.

5-0 out of 5 stars Gold Standard for Short Stories
Put simply, this collection of short stories is a contemporary gold standard for the form.Nabokov's stories are packed with sparkling surprises, playful artifices and languid, confident language.I've put together a 50+ year reading vita and I find myself drawn back to these stories like a moth to flame...

5-0 out of 5 stars There's nothing like a good Nabokov story
Started out reading this book little by little in order to digest each story in full, but then began reading one story after another with seemingly no intermission in between.Both ways suited me fine.In fact, sometimes it doesn't really help to think all that long about some of his stories--they are are like simple chance meetings w/ strangers, while other stories of his spawn dramatic lifetime relationships and require, even demand your utmost attention.

Everytime I stray from reading Nabokov I always come back to his books and think, "Wow, he is such an amazing writer!".I can't say enough about his detailed descriptions, his amazing perspectives, and his uncannily large English vocabulary.He never ceases to amaze me.

5-0 out of 5 stars Wondrous
Although I had read various Nabokov stories over the years I had never done so in a comprehensive manner, and finally decided to do so.I anticipated that this would be a wonderful read, and of course, I was right.

I was well aware as to how gifted Nabokov is with the language;what surprised me is his versatility.It seems like there is nothing he can't do.Contained in this collection is every kind of character imaginable:rich, poor, simple, smart;there is even an entirely credible portrait of a Siamese twin.There is straight drama, fantasy, adventure, horror and intrigue.There are all the elements of what our English teachers told us make good writing:symbolism, allegory, descriptive power, observation, wit, cleverness, heart, and an enormous store of knowledge, performed in a style that can only be described as poetic.And woven through it are the themes that make up the web of humanity:beauty, truth, and love.It is an utterly splendid collection, as good a collection of short stories as any I have ever read.

One of the things that sets him apart is restraint, or perhaps subtlety is a better word.In, "The Reunion," for example, two brothers meet after not seeing each other for ten years.One escaped the Soviet Union and is living a poor, almost wretched existence in Berlin.His brother stayed, and was able to achieve some success as a Soviet functionary.They finally meet each other in the Berliner's shabby apartment.Most authors would not be able to resist the urge to let this to sink into melodrama.There would be arguments, tears, and recriminations.But not for Nabokov.In his story the brothers simply find that they are uncomfortable with one another, and when they go their separate ways the seeming lack of drama beforehand makes their parting all the more poignant.

Humor and sadness are evident in all of this collection, sometimes in succeeding stories, sometimes in succeeding pages."A Bad Day," is the touching and amusing story of a little boy's visit to his cousins in the Russian countryside, a visit he dreads because he doesn't get along and because he will be teased.The last line of the story--which in the hands of somebody like Updike would be a devastating condemnation of humanity--is here bittersweet, bringing both a tear to the eye and a smile to the face in self-recognition.It is, after all, nothing more than a "bad day."

But if there is whimsy here there is also great power.In, "Signs and Symbols," an old man and woman make a trip to the sanatorium to visit their deranged adult son on his birthday.Such a simple exercise is made terribly complicated by their age, their lack of means, the unpredictable nature of their son, and the indifference of the hospital staff. Nothing is really resolved by story's end;we are simply given an indelible portrait of the difficult, arduous journey that life has been for these uncomplicated, decent people.It is very moving and also an excellent example of Nabokov's worldly or otherworldly knowledge.

Many of the stories here have to do with, as you would expect, Russians and Russian expatriates.("Write about what you know!" the English teachers say.) Nabokov unfortunately knew about the horrible experience of being exiled from his country, a country that his stories make clear he deeply loved, and to which he never returned.He doesn't spend a lot of time condemning the evil system that drove him and millions like him away, (although he does, briefly, in two of his earlier, weaker stories), he instead concentrates on those that it drove away.There are many excellent examples of this, but perhaps my favorite is entitled, "Cloud, Castle, Lake."In it, an older fellow is taken on a holiday train excursion he tries to get out of, is coerced into taking part in activities he doesn't wish to engage, and told to forsake the simple pleasures he has come to enjoy;all for--he is told--his own good.The train eventually stops at a perfect little inn, which overlooks a perfect lake in which is reflected a lovely cloud and castle.He wants to stay.Of course, he can't.Sad as it is, the story is also very amusing, and, typical of Nabokov at his best, works on several different levels.

The story also contains examples of Nabokov's splendid use of the language at the height of his power.Our friend observes the countryside from his hurtling train:"The badly pressed shadow of the car sped madly along the grassy bank, where flowers blended into colored streaks.A crossing:a cyclist was waiting, resting one foot upon the ground.Trees appeared in groups and singly, revolving coolly and blandly, displaying the latest fashions.The blue dampness of a ravine.A memory of love, disguised as a meadow.Wispy clouds--greyhounds of heaven."How marvelously descriptive this, and so beautiful that one finds oneself emotionally engaged.

The book is loaded with this stuff.You can barely turn a page without some surprise or delight awaiting you.A twenty-eight year old son returns unexpectedly after many years to visit his mother in, "The Doorbell."In the dimly lit room, he is taken aback by the fact that she is clearly preoccupied with something.Suddenly, "like a stupid sun issuing from a stupid cloud, the electric light burst forth from the ceiling."This, by the way, is another great story.In, "Ultima Thule," as a character is walking on the beach, "a wave would arrive, all out of breath, but, as it had nothing to report, it would disperse in apologetic salaams."

I could go on and on.After picking up the book I decided to read it cover to cover, but after about a hundred and fifty pages, I simply opened it and read the stories randomly.After a time I began to open the book onto stories I had already read, and found that I couldn't help but to reread them.Finally, I became apprehensive in fear that I might have missed something.

But no matter.If I haven't gotten to one yet, I will eventually.The book has already become an old friend, and like an old friend I will return to its comfort and joys for many years to come. ... Read more

5. Pnin (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics)
by Vladimir Nabokov
Hardcover: 176 Pages (2004-04-06)
list price: US$19.00 -- used & new: US$11.36
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1400041988
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

One of the best-loved of Nabokov’s novels, Pnin features his funniest and most heart-rending character. Professor Timofey Pnin is a haplessly disoriented Russian émigré precariously employed on an American college campus in the 1950s. Pnin struggles to maintain his dignity through a series of comic and sad misunder-standings, all the while falling victim both to subtle academic conspiracies and to the manipulations of a deliberately unreliable narrator.

Initially an almost grotesquely comic figure, Pnin gradually grows in stature by contrast with those who laugh at him. Whether taking the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he has not mastered or throwing a faculty party during which he learns he is losing his job, the gently preposterous hero of this enchanting novel evokes the reader’s deepest protective instinct.

Serialized in The New Yorker and published in book form in 1957, Pninbrought Nabokov both his first National Book Award nomination and hitherto unprecedented popularity. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (57)

4-0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly ambiguous
Nabokov displays the full range of his considerable talent in this novel.The story is often quite funny, understated humor occasionally giving way to slapstick as the narrator describes the actions and thoughts of the irascible Panin, whose struggles with the mundane mechanics of existence (travel, employment, noise, gadgetry), with love, with memory, and with English sentence structure and pronunciation (despite Panin's certainty that he has mastered the language) are hilarious.At other times the story is deeply moving--the brief description of Panin's pain as he recalls the death of a former lover in a Nazi extermination camp is heartbreaking.At all times Nabokov tells the story of Panin in achingly beautiful, evocative, luminous, pitch perfect prose.

The novel, while short, lends itself to lengthy analysis and discussion.Is the narrator's description of Panin reliable, given Panin's evident animosity toward him?Is Panin a victim of circumstances or does he manufacture his own fate?Has Panin lost faith, lost hope?How will Panin react to the final blow, delivered at the novel's end?Is Panin ultimately a creature of the narrator's imagination--perhaps the narrator's alter-ego?It is a measure of Nabokov's genius that these questions (and many others) can be answered in so many different ways.The only thing that is certain about the story is its brilliance.I would give it 4 1/2 stars if Amazon offered that option.

5-0 out of 5 stars "Coming To America" Nabokov Style
I'm taunted by the black and white photo on the back of my Pnin: a dapper Nabokov, holding his own copy of the novel and sardonically gazing through time at me, challenging me to determine the real Professor Timofey Pnin, the real narrator, the significance of the recurring squirrel. There's a trickster's gleam in his eye, and Pnin, while a fairly uncomplicated little novel, is not without literary chicanery and sophistication. And partially, it's that subterfuge on one level and the simplicity of a Nabokovian version of "Coming to America" (or maybe even a less licentious "Borat" ) that make this an enchanting novel. (Professor Pnin in Eddie Murphy's role, but instead of an African king clashing with his new American culture, we get a Russian émigré academic and his culture clashes sans all the women and without the NYC flashiness. But hilarity ensues all the same. Plus there's the added bonus of Nabokov`s opulent prose.)

Describing Pnin's character is difficult because he's filtered through the eyes of a questionable narrator (who only enters the narrative as Pnin is leaving it, literally with the narrator chasing him down the highway). With this is the added complexity that our narrator has filled in the holes of his knowledge of Pnin's life and "timeline" with the stories two other characters tell of Pnin. And these guys seem to have great contempt for our (anti)hero (I won`t give their identities away here).

If the narrator is who I think he is (and I'm pretty sure of this but since half the fun is figuring it out for yourself, I shall remain mum. The clues are all there.), then Pnin himself, as the narrator recounts, tells a table full of Russian émigrés that he is not to be believed. "He makes up everything. He once invented that we were schoolmates in Russia and cribbed at examinations. He is a dreadful inventor." And there's a wink from Nabokov in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

In my view, the narrator merely appears omniscient --- he has only pieced together Pnin's narrative from cumulative knowledge and opinions of the man and fills the parts he was not witness to with literary flourishes to make a cohesive narrative of Pnin`s life. The Pnin that appears through most of the novel is utterly ridiculous, hilarious , and completely without artifice. Reader, you won't forget him, whether it's his true demeanor or not. He's lovable and charming because of his kind intentions, gentle heart, and academic talents, but he's SO totally inflexible and neurotic. He kinda reminds me of Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm", where neuroticism and absurd idiosyncracies form most of the plot.

One of the major themes of the novel deals with Pnin's refusal (or inability) to understand American culture and the English language --- he doesn't get Charlie Chaplin films but he loves old Soviet "documentaries" (probably propaganda). One of my favorite scenes involves Joan (Pnin calls her "John"), the wife of a colleague, attempting to explain American advertisements and humour to him: "I do not want, John. You know I do not understand what is advertisement and what is not advertisement." The scene ends with Pnin sobbing "I haf nofing left, nofing, nofing!"

Much of the humour is tied to linguistic misunderstandings and Pnin's attempts to master the English language; a house-warming party becomes a house-heating, being fired is being shot, soda is viscous and sawdust. The narrator deadpans that "Except for such not very helpful odds and ends as `the rest is silence,' `nevermore,' `weekend,' `who's who,' and a few ordinary words like `eat,' `street,' `fountain pen,' `gangster,' `Charleston,' and marginal utility' he had no English at all at the time he left France for the States." His language mistakes and the formality and stiffness of his English is no doubt comical, but it does feel a little mean-spirited to laugh (especially as I'm sure my burgeoning German skills are very, very rough at times).

And then. And then we get a completely other Pnin, right at the very end of the novel when we've settled into his flaws and all. The narrator begins to speak of his first- hand knowledge of Timofey Pnin and we see vestiges and shadows of an utterly different man. There are hints all through the novel of doubling and twinning, but this motif explodes when we learn of an arrogant, confident, fully adept Professor Pnin, suavely handling the English language and lectures to rooms full of academics (in contrast to his sweaty and nervous lecture at the beginning of the novel to the Cremona Women's club).

And there's satire galore. Satire of academia, (of both students and professors), satire of psychoanalysis and psychology (some of the best moments in the novel), and satire of mid-century American culture in general, the Midwest and youth culture in particular. We get Nabokov's famously elliptical writing, as the beginning and end mirror each other, and we get frolicsome but fanatically managed writing. I'm only left questioning the purpose of the grey squirrel's appearances, so I guess maybe this isn't such a simple little novel.

So I should probably compare this to the eponymous Lolita (the only other Nabokov I've read). That Nabokov is here, in Pnin, but he's loosened his tie a bit. Truthfully, I think I enjoyed this more if only because I could read it purely for pleasure, far from the pressures of professors and thesis statements, and the pressures that come with reading an author's most popular and most studied work.

5-0 out of 5 stars Good
A book I've tried to read several times, but didn't get into. I'm not sure why, having sat down with it with some more focus I found it extremely readable, entertaining and fast paced. It's also quite funny, and overall captures the lighter expression of life with a lot more substance and general engagement than Glory did. The book is all about the titular professor Pnin, with his odd manerisms and only partial successful adaptation to the United States, and the array of odd encounters he has. It's clearly aiming for less ambitious and more surface story than Lolita or Pale Fire, and on that grounds it succeeds, making a fun, interesting and well written book. At the same time, by the end it doesn't seem to have offered as much of insight or underlying meta-drama as I've come to expect with Nabokov. The degree to which it's autobigoraphical may be debated, on the whole certainly less than Transparent Things, and it should be said that this factor doesn't inhibit the presentation of deep intimacy with the subject. That's what being a skilled writer means, one can convey more than just their own life with utter conviction.

Better than: Glory by Vladimir Nabokov
Worse than: Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov

5-0 out of 5 stars The pompous posing of punning Professor Pnin
Unlike Nabokov's other English-language novels, "Pnin" was written for serial publication; of the seven chapters, four appeared in The New Yorker; two were rejected by the magazine (one for being "unpleasant"); and the last chapter was written for the book. Individually, the stories would hardly have seemed out of place in pages that hosted Thurber and Cheever. Nabokov's series of interrelated sketches about Professor Timofey Pnin have a Wodehousian quality about them; the rather lovable, frequently arrogant, always clueless Russian emigre bumbles about the novel with blithe finesse.

The episodic nature of the chapters has led some readers to regard the book as disjointed (as did various potential publishers, who rejected the novel as too short and inchoate). Yet I believe that, in spite of the lack of a continuous storyline, this is among Nabokov's strongest works, in large part because Pnin takes on a life of his own when the seven sketches are read together. From the moment early in the first chapter that "Professor Pnin was on the wrong train," Pnin is the plot, and the obstacles placed in the trajectory of his life are ordeals he inflicts upon himself in his Chaplinesque dealings with neighbors and landlords, with audiences on the lecture circuit, and (above all) with the faculty members of Waindell (read: Cornell) College. And, typically for a Nabokov novel, the final chapter makes us wonder if Pnin's legendary struggles are literally the stuff of legend.

"It was the world that was absent-minded and it was Pnin whose business it was to set it straight." This overconfident bungler is almost certainly an amalgamation of every Russian scholar Nabokov knew--including himself. Pnin boasts "a bright foreigner's fondness for puns"--a quality he shares with the author, notorious for an unrelenting punning that extends to the very name of his character. Similarly, the professor's misfortunes as a victim of scholarly squabbling recall Nabokov's unpleasant experiences with departmental politics; David Lodge, perhaps today's leading virtuoso of the campus novel, has cited "Pnin" as one of the earliest examples of the genre, and the satire of academic life will resonate with anyone who has ever gone to college. And a final reason to recommend this shortest of novels is the lightheartedness and warmth it achieves while still evoking the solitary melancholy of Pnin's American life. Readers intimidated by the literary acrostics of "Pale Fire" or the heavyweight infamy of "Lolita" might find "Pnin" comparatively accessible; the book that first established Nabokov's reputation among American readers as an incomparable stylist, it's a great introduction to his oeuvre.

4-0 out of 5 stars To be placed among the best novellas.
This is the first Nabokov I have experienced, and it has kindled (I should be compensated by that plug) further exploratory interests.I had never known Nabokov was so good a writer; actually, he is better than good, if I may be so bold from a single reading.Nabokov steadfastly belongs with that long-lined confederacy of Russian writers that have proven their artistic mettle.With Pnin, attentive reading will be needed to unearth the symbolism inherent therein a casual reading will miss.This is an art-work for both the casual reader and the intellectual detective, the latter will obtain the most from its digestion.Though not pulp fiction, ironically its emergence comes unto us from that incipient structure of the the story-installment magazine form (a la Dickens, et.al.).Pnin marks the story of a Russian emigre from the Bolshevik Revolution to America and his difficulties at blending-in to Americana as a professor of Russian Literature via the ''campus story'' sub-genre of fiction -- among the first of such experiments.The story is told from an omniscient Narrator, who knows Timofey Pnin and is himself a character introduced late in the novella.It is difficult to tell whether the Narrator is a friend or the nemesis of Pnin, for the latter is ''skewered'' in farcical scorn form.The Narrator treats of Pnin non-heroically, yet one gets glimpses here (from Pnin's) interior senses, he is heroic (in the sense of noble, self-sacrificing, and altruistic.Who does the Reader believe?A bathetic Pnin from the Narrator's perspective or empathetic Pnin from a close reading?Does the Life of Pnin truly fall apart or does he bounce back as he meets yet another life-changing experience at the ending?The reader will exit with questions of his/her own about the symbolism and metaphor permeating the novella -- What of the squirrels? The ant? The dogs? other animalia? ... Read more

6. Pale Fire (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
by Vladimir Nabokov
Hardcover: 336 Pages (1992-03-10)
list price: US$22.00 -- used & new: US$16.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679410775
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Introduction by Richard RortyAmazon.com Review
Like Lolita,Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire is a masterpiece that imprisons usinside the mazelike head of a mad émigré. Yet Pale Fire is moreoutrageously hilarious, and its narrative convolutions make the earlierbook seem as straightforward as a fairy tale. Here's the plot--listencarefully! John Shade is a homebody poet in New Wye, U.S.A. He writes a999-line poem about his life, and what may lie beyond death. This novel(and seldom has the word seemed so woefully inadequate) consists of boththat poem and an extensive commentary on it by the poet's crazy neighbor,Charles Kinbote.

According to this deranged annotator, he had urged Shade to write about hisown homeland--the northern kingdom of Zembla. It soon becomes clear thatthis fabulous locale may well be a figment of Kinbote's colorfully cracked,prismatic imagination. Meanwhile, he manages to twist the poem into anaccount of Zembla's King Charles--whom he believes himself tobe--and the monarch's eventual assassination by the revolutionaryJakob Gradus.

In the course of this dizzying narrative, shots are indeed fired. But it'sShade who takes the hit, enabling Kinbote to steal the dead poet'smanuscript and set about annotating it. Is that perfectly clear? By now itshould be obvious that Pale Fire is not only a whodunit but awho-wrote-it. There isn't, of course, a single solution. But Nabokov's bestbiographer, Brian Boyd, hascome up with an ingenious suggestion: he argues that Shade is actuallyguiding Kinbote's mad hand from beyond the grave, nudging him intocompleting what he'd intended to be a 1,000-line poem. Read this magical,melancholic mystery and see if you agree. --Tim Appelo ... Read more

Customer Reviews (98)

5-0 out of 5 stars Nabokov's great satire
Okay, so I'd actually give Pale Fire 4.5 stars, but I'll round it up to 5.

This is a very witty and amusing book, that also has a pretty good poem in it. Its structure is not just a novelty that wears thin, it stands up as a cohesive work.It's marvellous how he creates a novel in the guise of footnotes and a poem.Also, I love reading books that introduce new words into my vocabulary.

I prefer Lolita to Pale Fire.Perhaps because I prefer Humbert Humbert to Charles the Beloved, but more likely because the footnotes read less like prose, and Nabokov is a master of prose.

Still, I highly recommend that any lover of books and language read Pale Fire.

5-0 out of 5 stars "Man's life as commentary to abstruse / Unfinishd poem..."
I loved it. The poem, the prose, the structure, the story, the comedy, the irony - the book delivered it all.

The ostensible subject of the book is a poem by a fictional poet John Shade with hilarious commentaries/footnotes by his supposed close friend Charles Kinbote.

If you're not liking the set-up already, please stay away; it gets better.

Kinbote hilariously and almost willingly misunderstands and misinterprets the poem to mean something entirely different and basically hi-jacks the literary commentary, goes off on tremendous tangents, and chronicles his own life in the footnotes thereby making John Shade's observation in his poem true:

Man's life as commentary to abstruse
Unfinished poem. Note for further use. (p. 67)

Thus Pale Fire is about Charles Kinbote's life as commentary to an abstruse and unfinished poem by John Shade.


No need to make fool of myself for adding more comments to an abstruse yet finished work.

5-0 out of 5 stars When Inmates (Think They) Run the Asylum
Nabokov's PALE FIRE provides some highly entertaining reading but also leaves me wondering what more I should have gotten from it.There is so much to this multifaceted author that I always fear to be missing some allusion, some inference, some idea beyond my ken as I read his creative prose.PALE FIRE, of course offers more than creative prose for it also offers up a very meaningful poem, the first poetry I've read by Nabokov, and I am most impressed by his skill as a poet in addition to that as a novelist.

The inclusion of the poem is, of course, vital to the structure of the novel since the book is built on the comments of Kinbote, who is annotating and explicating the poem for the rest of us, yet the poem could stand by itself with hardly any difficulty at all.For the most part, the poem presents us with the forlorn thoughts and ruminations on the possibility of an afterlife by John Shade, who has lost his beloved daughter to suicide, quite a different theme from what follows in Kinbote's commentaries.The fourth canto, however, has left me wondering.Its language, tone and tenor are different from those of the first three cantos.It sounds less developed and less polished than the others, and it includes a metaphor to "Old Zembla's fields," and Zembla is the imagined country of which Kinbote thought himself king!That is not Shade speaking.Has Kinbote rewritten the fourth canto is his own words?This is an example of what I said above about not quite grasping the full significance of some of Nabokov's writing.There is a change of focus (and author?) in the last fourth of the poem whose significance I cannot entirely comprehend.I must get Meyer's interpretive book FIND WHAT THE SAILOR HAS HIDDEN: VLADIMIR NABOKOV'S PALE FIRE.Her vision of Nabokov's creation is likely much clearer than mine.

The majority of pages, of course, present us the thoughts and explanations of Charles Kinbote, but we are not really meant to understand Shade's poem through those thoughts.Instead, we are meant to understand the warped mind of Charles Kinbote, who imagines himself the exiled king of Zembla.This technique is precisely the one that Nabokov uses in LOLITA, in which we come to understand the delusions of Humbert Humbert.In that novel, we see, interpret and understand the entire world through the eyes and brain of a pedophile.In PALE FIRE,we see Kinbote's self concept and his relationship with the poet John Shade through the eyes and brain of a delusional, egocentric fellow, not as damaging to others as Humbert but just as unrealistic in his expectations and interpretation of the outer world.

In another parallel between Kinbote and Humbert, we see Kinbote blaming perceived sleights by his poet friend on obstructions raised by Shade's wife, just as Humbert saw everyone in the world--except for the nymphets, of course--as misshapen and repulsive.Each man is interpreting the rest of the world as he believes or wants it to be, not as it is, and perhaps this is as good a definition of insanity as anything else, for insanity is certainly the topic of the book.

"Pale fire," of course, refers to moonlight, which is, after all, stolen from the sun.I spent a great deal of time trying to comprehend parts of the novel in terms ofthis thievery but eventually concluded that the title refers to the lunatics (literally, those made insane by the effects of moonlight) in the book rather than thievery--although, in a sense, Kinbote does "steal" Shade's poem at the end in order to annotate and publish it with his own commentary, so perhaps both meanings are indeed present.Kinbote is the primary lunatic in the novel, although Jack Gray, escaped from the asylum and metamorphosed into the regicide Gradus in Kinbote's mind, qualifies as well.Between them, they manage first to destroy the poet and then to purloin his work.

The treatment of poor, misguided Kinbote, who understands little of Shade's poem and who orients all of his commentary toward his own personal objectives and sees everything in terms of his own delusions, makes me think that perhaps Nabokov is tweaking literary critics in this book as well.After all, his contemporary critics were not especially kind to him, and PALE FIRE can be read, at least in part, as a commentary on their sanity, critical, yet expressed in such a humorous manner that those on the receiving end of the verbal bodkin do not realize that they are being skewered until the deed is done.

If anyone has actually read this far, let me apologize for attempting an explication of the novel rather than just a reader review, for I do not pretend to be qualified to do the former.I am just so overwhelmed at the multiplicity of possible interpretations of this delicious and unusual novel that ideas bubble out of their own volition.PALE FIRE is close to a "must read" category, yet it may not be the best of Nabokov for one to start with.If one wishes to explore the mind of this incredible writer, I suggest beginning with PNIN, continuing with LOLITA, and then enjoying PALE FIRE.The experiences that one has with the first two books will, I feel, be of great help in appreciating this one.

ADDED COMMENTARY TWO WEEKS LATER:Thanks to Interlibrary Loan, I've now read Priscilla Meyer's book FIND WHAT THE SAILOR HAS HIDDEN. Her analysis of Nabokov's themes, allusions, and references, not just in PALE FIRE but in all of his works, is, to say the very least, illuminating.I knew I was surely missing much of what Nabokov embedded in his novel, but I had no inkling of how much I was missing. To glean everything that Nabokov has woven into his writings would require an intimate knowledge of authors and editors from Pushkin to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of King Alfred, not mention Shakespeare and ancient Norse legends. Meyer's analytical book will, however, give the general reader a much greater understanding of Nabokov's themes, and I highly recommend it to anyone who feels challenged by Nabokov's works and wishes to more fully appreciate them.As to the interpretation of this book's title, "pale fire" alludes to a multiplicity of concepts, including the pale nature of translated literature in comparison with the original and the pale nature of this mortal life compared with the beauty of the afterlife as Nabokov imagined it.

5-0 out of 5 stars A brilliant tour-de-force!
I first read Nabokov's exercise in meta-fiction when I was 18 years old. I found it amusing. Re-reading it again at age 56, it found it f-ing brilliant. Charles Kinbote is, in many ways, the ultimate "unreliable narrator." Ostensibly, he is writing a "commentary" on a long poem by the American poet John Shade. (The poem itself is particularly beautiful, and in no need of a lengthy explanation.) But Kinbote goes on (and on and on and on) providing comments that are, at best, obliquely about the content of the poem, and primarily about himself and the fictional land of Zembla. At one point Kinbote says "I have no desire to twist and batter an unambiguous apparatus criticus into the monstrous semblance of a novel." But of course, that's exactly what Nabokov has done so brilliantly. As a portrait of the absurdities of American academia in the mid-20th-century, it is sharp-witted and spot on. In the end, I'm not sure who I feel more sorry for: Shade, whose final great poem has wound up in the hands of a clueless narcissist, or Kinbote himself, who cannot see how his own perspective is so hugely at odds with what he claims it to be. A real tour-de-force, and really, really funny.

5-0 out of 5 stars Into The Maze
"Pale Fire" may be the most formally perfect novel I've ever read.It's a leap over even Lolita (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) in sheer originality and inventiveness.("Lolita"'s beauty of language keeps it maybe a smidgen ahead of "Pale Fire" overall.)It resembles a maze or a crossword puzzle: only there is real flesh, blood and pain involved.I will say I did have some difficulty with the Zemblan elements of the novel.They seemed a little far-fetched and silly to me.But again, that's where Nabokov gets you: a madman might come up with a fantasy world that is just as far-fetched.The novel is tantalizingly open to multiple interpretations.Is Kinbote insane?Or is he really the deposed king of Zembla.Or maybe he doesn't exist at all except as a literary device cooked up by the poet John Shade.Or maybe Shade is invented by Kinbote.Or maybe Kinbote and Shade were invented by the mad expatriate professor of Russian V. Botkin.Or maybe, just maybe, the ghost of the suicide Hazel Shade composed this book through her poet father.There are hints dropped all through "Pale Fire" to support every one of these theories.It's not frustrating, though, the way similar games are in the work of other writers. That's because of the remarkable wit that keeps you snickering throughout.And it's because of the sadness of the tragedy at the heart of the novel: the fate of Shade and his daughter, and the probable fate of Kinbote.As Richard Rorty writes in the introduction to this edition, maybe reading "Pale Fire" can convince the reader to be a little more compassionate and kind in a world where Nabokov's father could be assassinated in real life the same way Shade meets his destiny. ... Read more

7. Mary
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 144 Pages (1989-11-20)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$8.11
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679726209
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Nabokov's first novel. A tale of youth, first love and nostalgia. In a Berlin rooming house, a vigorous young officer poised between his past and his future relives his first love affair. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (15)

5-0 out of 5 stars Largely plotless novel. Large amount of emotion.
Vladimir Nabokov's first novel, Mary, is almost devoid of any kind of plot. It tells the simple story of a man who has lost a love, and the memories of her he has. Mary is brimming with emotion and wonderful descriptions of what first love is really like: the suspense of seeing that person again, the pain that comes when you have to leave, and the longing, oh that longing...we have all felt it. This is one of my favorite new novels, and I plan to read it over and over again.

2-0 out of 5 stars Great style, dearth of story
Stylistically enchanting and emotionally true, the novel is just too moribund, stuck in its banal location and flat characters.The ending's final twist isn't totally unexpected, but is presented in a way that is both unusual and real.Yet the book's short length is still too far to go for its brief, lightning bug burst of insight at the finale.

4-0 out of 5 stars Right From the Start . . .
Often considered to be the best writer of the 20th Century, Nabakov displayed all his talents rights from the start in this, his first novel.MARY may be short in pages, but its prose is as beautiful as any in Nabakov's later works.Nabakov never grabbed the reader by the throat, but rather wrote so delicately as to evoke the feeling of seeing a piece of art transformed into the written word, inviting the reader to enjoy the sensation.

MARY is also similar to other Nabakov novels in being rather introspective.When Ganin, residing at a small hotel, sees a photograph of the wife of a fellow guest, he recognizes her as his former lover, with whom he lost touch.Ganin thereupon spends his time thinking about his lost love, fantasizing about running away with her again when she comes by.Ganin's ruminations draw us in, and we feel Mary's soft skin, and Ganin's desire, as Ganin himself did those years ago.

That we never find out exactly what happens is immaterial.Nabakov did not write mystery novels, with neat plots and loose ends tied up.He wrote of experiences, and he wrote them well enough for us to be all but there.MARY is an excellent place to begin a discovery of this master writer's work.

5-0 out of 5 stars One of the Three Greatest Russian Writers Ever
If ever discussing Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, the conversation might inevitably turn towards Nobakov. One of the holy trinity of Russian writers, Nabokov, in "Mary", encompasses a whole array of human emotions. I don't want to give away the ending, but the impact is compounded in the final pages. Masterfully written, it keeps you turning pages to see what happens. It didn't turn out like I imagined, but I was not disappointed. Conversely, instead of being let down, my life went through a paradigm shift. Not a lot of books have done that to me, but this book is a rarity indeed.

5-0 out of 5 stars Are memories real
Having suffered a head injury with a period of memory loss I understand the angony and mystery in trying to fill in the gaps of bits of images.I can only imagine the sense of loss and displacement that the main character, a military officer who we learn suffered a major head injury during the war.Engrossed in the novel, we then are left wondering what was real or imagined.Unable to fill in the blanks in his life, the protagonist takes bits of the present and past and creates a world of memories in an attempt to find himself.What distinguishes this great work from later works of popular science fiction or mystery, is that the cahraters live in a place and time where they are unable to return to their homeland, recover and heal fro the war, revolution and displacement that affected countless people.Add to that a totalitarian Russia that attempted to erase and rewite the past and you have a human mirror to an injury now imposed upon an entire society.Joseph Roth explored the displacement of people from the Austrian Empire between the great wars and here Nabokov adds to Roth's accomplishments.Memory, individual and corporate, is pivotal to understanding ourselves and orienting our lives.Nabokov, brilliantly creates a ship floating without such ballast.The amazing thing is that what these authors wrote about was real.Read this book. ... Read more

8. Invitation to a Beheading
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 240 Pages (1989-09-19)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$6.91
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Asin: 0679725318
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Like Kafka's The Castle, Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude." an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers. an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws. who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed. he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (26)

3-0 out of 5 stars When you don't play the Game, and become one of life's outliers...
Nabokov surreal romp is the story of Cincinnatus C., somewhere out there in the faceless depths of Middle Europe, who has just been sentenced to a beheading for the crime of "Gnostic turpitude," which must be the legal equivalent of a "Universal Fudge Factor"; a mental construction to give you the "right answer." And the right answer in this case is that Cincinnatus does not fit into society, at least properly, and Nabokov does not dwell on the reason, only that he must leave it for his "crime." Nabokov's style is Fellini meets Kafka.

Almost the entire novel is set in Cincinnatus' jail cell, as he awaits execution. Yes, he is allowed to leave the cell from time to time, and the reader must ponder if the departures are imaginary trips or aspects of Nabokov's surrealism. The director of the jail, Rodion, is often solicitous of his only inmate, and plays psychological games both for his own edification as well as to have Cincinnatus develop complicity in his own fate. Cincinnatus wife, Marthe, has had a long habit of playing him for the cuckold, as she consummates numerous affairs, some quite openly. Cincinnatus' mother, whom he has met only one time before, also pays him a visit... or, as Nabokov injects the possibility, was she just someone sent from "central casting" to play the role? There is also Cincinnatus' lawyer, of the missing cufflinks. Nabokov does manage to establish dramatic tension between the utter pettiness of the other characters' daily concerns (like life writ large?) and the fate of Cincinnatus, who desires to know the date of the execution, and that information is knowingly withheld (again, a parallel with life for all of us.)

No question, Nabokov is a great writer, and the reader experiences his droll wit, for example: "You are very kind," said an additional Cincinnatus, having cleared his throat. "Mercy," exclaimed the director, unmindful of the tactlessness of that word. Or how about rich, evocative metaphors: "...ne dolzhno bilo bi bit - only on the bark of the Russian language could such a fungus bunch of verbs have sprouted."

There is much else in this rather short novel to enjoy, including Cincinnatus reading a 3000 page novel, "Quercus," on an oak tree, that he will never be able to finish. The director's young daughter, Emmie, has to be a precursor of Lolita. In one scene I was reminded of General Jack Ripper, in Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Special Edition). There are visits from "M'sieur Pierre, the prison's second inmate, but to discuss further would give the game away. And the reader is invited to his own reflections when Nabokov describes the last things that I dying man will think about.

Despite what at least one other reviewer says, I do believe that this book is highly derivative of Franz Kafka. And it is not up to Nabokov's best writing either, like Pale Fire (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) or even his own autobiography Speak, Memory (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) For me, far too many of the scenes were too "cute," without broader social or literary purpose. In other words, perhaps the novel was half again too long. Thus, in parts I found it enjoyable, and even informative, but only up to 3-stars.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not Nabokov's finest
Nabokov was an immensely talented writer, and could wield prose like few other authors. (If you're anticipating a "but" here, you're right.) But, he fell flat with Invitation to a Beheading.

The story focuses on a man, Cincinnatus, sitting on death row, in what appears to be the most incompetently organized prison on earth. His execution date is forever being delayed (which irks Cincinnatus, as all he truly desires to know is the date of his impending death); he receives a visit from his in-laws in which they bring their own furniture to his cell; he is constantly slipping in and out of reality, living in an imagined world of freedom; and he speaks often of his cellmate -- a large spider.

And perhaps the most frustrating element? Nabokov never intends to inform the reader why Cincinnatus is imprisoned, only revealing that (I promise this is not a spoiler) he is there for a crime of "gnostic turptitude." Huh.

The story seems non-cohesive, never really following a linear story arc, so an overall theme or "point" never presents itself. My only deduction is that the book is really a social commentary, expressing the view that capital punishment is an absurd, silly, and ultimately, wicked atrocity. Without knowing Nabokov's person feelings on the subject, it's impossible to know if this is a correct analysis or not, but it seems to fit.

Skip this one and read Nabokov's finer works, such as Lolita.

4-0 out of 5 stars Stop comparing this to Kafka
With literature like this, the plot isn't the point.What happens is nowhere near as important as why it happens.The ending is spelled out on the back of this book and I'm going to tell you what it is right now.The hero, after spending the entire novel on death row, causes the world around him to disintegrate.

If knowing this about the book causes it to lose its appeal for you, you probably don't have it in you to love the book, anyway.I'm not knocking you.It's an enviable position to be in.

If you are still interested enough to continue reading this, I'll tell you why I share the ending.What I want you to understand from this ending is that, while the novel is similar to Kafka at times, it is mostly nothing like Kafka.Dark wackiness and alienation abound but these are still two very different writers.

The comparison is incredibly easy to make and I fear that, if you allow yourself to make it, you will miss the book while reading it.Kafka is wonderful and I am a huge fan.His writing is determined, though.You will find it difficult to stray too far from where it is Kafka wants you to be.

"Invitation to a Beheading" requires your active participation.Nabokov invites you to be a sort of creator, too.This is the sort of book that will allow you to find your own meaning He lets you bring a great deal of yourself into this book. But you have to be in his book.

Don't visit Russia and pretend you're in Hungary the whole time just because the languages are both so harsh sounding.

If you can't help thinking of "The Castle" for the first half of the book, don't bother with the last.You'll just end up writing yet another turgid, pedantic review here and, God knows, this poor little novel has enough of those.Please try not to think of "The Castle".Try not to think of Kafka at all.The similarities are window dressing.

4-0 out of 5 stars Diet Kafka
The musings of Kafka and other Eastern European writers are among my favorite.Though Nabokov claims to have had no familiarity with Kafka's "The Trial" as he wrote "Invitation to a Beheading", the book bears a striking resemblance.If one reads this book expecting another Kafka, the reader might be disappointed.If a reader views this work according to its own merits as they should, the book should be a pleasureable read.

Cincinnatus C. has been imprisoned and sentenced to death for "gnostical turpitude."Other parts of the story explain his crime is his inability to fit in with the rest of his society.The imprisonment and execution include a series of bizarre contradictions except for the fact that they occur only in Cincinnatus's mind.Frustrated by the inability of others to tell when he will be put to death, Cincinnatus retreats to a world of musing through his somewhat scattered writings.The line between reality and fiction blurs until the line is no longer existent in the final pages.

Despite the inprobabilty of Kafka's influence, I think my love of Kafka tarnished this work in my eyes.No writer can explore the irrational world like Kafka, though Nabokov shows similar strength.In reality, how often does the real world make sense?Perhaps this is the reason works of this vein are so popular.

5-0 out of 5 stars An Eerie Resemblance to Unreality
Ask me any questions you may not have, friends. By mounting the reviewer's scaffold, I've sentenced myself to reply on behalf of the author, who is otherwise disposed. What's this book about, you ask? Why, the same thing all books are about, you and me. But what happens in it? That's an impertinent question! Why should my author be troubled to say what his book is about when you can read it for yourself. Humble apologies then, but is there a setting?Oh, there may or may not be a setting, or more precisely, a sitting, in a cell in a castle across a river from a town of exceptional ordinariness, but the cell shows all the hallmarks of quantum measurability. And characters? Yes, yes, one or more. A certain Cincinnatus, who bears a close resemblance to Schroedinger's cat, is encapsulated in his cells, as we all are, awaiting his death by beheading for the crime of gnostical turpitude, of which he would no doubt be guilty if he knew what it meant. His guard, the guard's small daughter, his lawyer, the warden, his wife and in-laws, his mother whom he doesn't know, and his executioner-to-be, an outlandish primo donno, all pop in and out of his cellular anomie like punch-and-judy puppets operated by sadistic voyeurs. Is the whole tale a fabulation in Cincinnatus's mind? No, of course not. Cincinnatus is a fabulation in the author's mind. Try to ask more sensible questions, please! Is this a fable of life in the dungeons of communism? That's enough! I can't continue to evade your questions on behalf of Mr. Nabokov if you don't frame them in surreal terms!

People have said about music that it is the most expressive of arts but that it's impossible to say precisely what it expresses. Nabokov's early writings - Invitation to a Beheading was written in Russian and published in Paris in 1938 - were immediately compared to the works of Franz Kafka, and although Nabokov disputes the association, I should think most readers would accept it.A determined reader could demand an either/or of this Beheading: either the whole thing is a `morbid' fantasy in the mind of a neurasthenic fellow whose name may be Cincinnatus, or the `real' Cincinnatus is absorbed in fretful day dreams which are brought to a final page only with his actual death. I prefer to dodge either/or questions, being a musician, and to suggest that Invitation to a Beheading is music, and therefore means whatever I think it means. You, dear reader, are welcome to share my musical appreciation.

Here's how Nabokov describes Cincinnatus's departure from his cell en route to the scaffold: Cincinnatus, who, alas, had suddenly lost the capacity of walking, was supported by M'sieur Pierre [the executioner] and a soldier with the face of a borzoi. For a very long time they clambered up and down staircases - the fortress must have suffered a mild stroke, as the descending stairs were in reality ascending and vice versa. Again there were long corridors, but of a more inhabited kind; that is, they visibly demonstrated - either by linoleum, or by wallpaper, or by a sea chest against the wall - that they adjoined living quarters. At one bend there was even a smell of cabbage soup. Further on they passed a glass door with the inscription "ffice," and after another period of darkness they abruptly found themselves in the courtyard, vibrant with the noonday sun.

Now then, dear amazonian book shoppers, you'll have to join the throng of townspeople hastening toward the place of execution in order to sop up the sanguinary verbiage at the foot of the scaffold.
... Read more

9. Nikolai Gogol
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 172 Pages (1961-01-17)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$9.02
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0811201201
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Nikolai Gogol was the most idiosyncratic of the great Russian novelists of the 19th century and lived a tragically short life which was as chaotic as the lives of the characters he created. This biography begins with Gogol's death and ends with his birth, an inverted structure typical of both Gogol and Nabokov. The biographer proceeds to establish the relationship between Gogol and his novels, especially with regard to "nose-consciousness", a peculiar feature of Russian life and letters, which finds its apotheosis in Gogol's own life and prose. There are more expressions and proverbs concerning the nose in Russian than in any other language in the world. Nabokov's style in this biography is comic, but as always leads to serious issues - in this case, an appreciation of the distinctive "sense of the physical" inherent in Gogol's work. Nabokov describes how Gogol's life and literature mingled, and explains the structure and style of Gogol's prose in terms of the novelist's life. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars A keystone to Nabokov's oevre
I remember reading Nabokov's Gogol as a teenager a very long time ago, and being captivated by the bump and grind of Nabokov's most revelatory critical prose. The sketches that make up this book have the tone of a series of lectures. This may be the most spontaneous writing of that great writer. Unlike the vast, labored, encyclopaedic and undeniably seminal work on Pushkin, Nabokov conveys his passion for Gogol by anecdote and impressionistic imagery. Perhaps because of this, this book demonstrates how content is conveyed more through a writer's style, his grammar and tropes than straightforward semantic intent. The other artistic articulation of Nabokov's aesthetic ("An Evening of Russian Poetry") explains that "Because all hangs together - shape and sound/heather and honey, vessel and content./Not only rainbows - every line is bent" and in Gogol, the bent line is Gogol's life in art. The chapter on "Poshlust" in this book is essential reading not just for understanding Nabokov, but possibly for one's personal moral, ethical and aesthetic well being. Whether spelled as the Nabokovian "poshlust" or the more conventional "poshlost", this must rank as significant a Nabokovian English neologism as "nymphet". I would rank this book as perhaps the best key to Lolita, Ada, the Gift and Pale Fire, Nabokov's immortal Tetrology.

4-0 out of 5 stars Could have been better, but it's awfully good
Perhaps regrettably obscured behind Nabokov's famous novels and even his Lectures on Russian Literature and his controversial work on Eugene Onegin lies this short critical biography of Nikolai Gogol.The main thrust ofthe book is to portray Gogol as a masterful, if troubled and inconsistent,writer whose work is valuable not at all for its portrayal of Russia or forany seeming advocacy of social change, but rather exclusively for itsartistic merit.Nabokov takes us rather briskly through Gogol's youth andhis earlier works; provides detailed, quote-filled discussions of TheInspector General and the first volume of Dead Souls; summarizes the lastten years of Gogol's life, during which he attempted to write the secondvolume of Dead Souls but saw his artistic creativity fading; and gives ashort exposition of Gogol's most famous short story, "TheOvercoat."

Nabokov's essays on The Inspector General, Dead Souls,and "The Overcoat" are all quite illuminating and entertaining. He escorts us through each work, discussing the numerous ways in which eachinnovatively reflects Gogol's unique and charming quirks, and including,with annotations, numerous passages (each translated by Nabokov himself)which demonstrate Gogol's excellent prose.His emphasis is not at all onthe plots of the works (which he only grudgingly included at the end of thebook at the request of his publisher) but rather on their style, which hesuccessfully shows to be a much more fundamental aspect of Gogol's worksthan any satire that one may choose to read in to them.

At times,though, it seems that Nabokov gets a little too caught up in his own dogma. Most critics nowadays would agree with Nabokov that Gogol was much moreimportant as an artist than as a social commentator, but it's pushing itawfully far to say, as Nabokov does, that Dead Souls is no moreauthentically a tale about Russia than Hamlet is authentically aboutDenmark.Also, Nabokov confines almost all of his attention to just threeworks, which put together, if memory serves, wouldn't come to much morethan 300 pages.He dismisses Gogol's numerous Ukrainian tales (the last ofwhich were written when Gogol was 25; The Inspector General, by contrast,was written at the ripe old age of 26) as "juvenilia" which areemphatically not "the real Gogol," and pays little more than lipservice to any of Gogol's other acclaimed short stories.The one otherslightly irritating aspect of Nabokov's book that I can think of is that inthe long passages that he quotes he insists on interjecting his owncomments [in brackets] mid-sentence, thus ruining the flow of the prosethat he took the trouble of translating so very well.

But these are allminor quibbles, and I hope you won't let them discourage you.Nabokovmakes his point very entertainingly and very well, and although it mighthave been nice if he'd broadened his study to more of Gogol's work, hisdiscussions of Gogol's three most important works are really excellent. Since it would be hard for me to think of a 20th-century author more suitedto writing about Gogol than Nabokov, I had high expectations for this book,and I was not at all disappointed. ... Read more

10. Speak, Memory (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
by Vladimir Nabokov, Brian Boyd
Hardcover: 344 Pages (1999-03-23)
list price: US$20.00 -- used & new: US$11.74
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375405534
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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From one of the 20th century's great writers comes one of the finest autobiographies of our time. Speak, Memory was first published by Vladimir Nabokov in 1951 as Conclusive Evidence and then assiduously revised and republished in 1966.The Everyman's Library edition includes, for the first time, the previously unpublished "Chapter 16"--the most significant unpublished piece of writing by the master, newly released by the Nabokov estate--which provided an extraordinary insight into Speak, Memory.

Nabokov's memoir is a moving account of a loving, civilized family, of adolescent awakenings, flight from Bolshevik terror, education in England, and émigré life in Paris and Berlin. The Nabokovs were eccentric, liberal aristocrats, who lived a life immersed in politics and literature on splendid country estates until their world was swept away by the Russian revolution when the author was eighteen years old. Speak, Memory vividly evokes a vanished past in the inimitable prose of Nabokov at his best.Amazon.com Review
Even if you already own Nabokov's earthy, otherworldly account of hisastounding life, you must buy this 1999 edition. And if you've neverread Speak, Memory, you must do so at once. This volume is essential because itincludes the unpublished last chapter, a pseudo-review comparing Speak,Memory with another, nonexistentmemoir called When Lilacs Last. (That title refers to Whitman'spoem on Lincoln's assassination and to the lilacs of Nabokov'schildhood home) Chapter16 is a key to what the imaginary reviewer accurately calls a "uniquefreak as autobiographies go," revealing its novel-like nature andunifying themes and images (chess, puzzles, spirals, jewels, rainbows,exile, thestained-glass shadow patterns that the future casts on the present). MaybeNabokov thought he gave too much away, and one sees the formalsuperiority of ending the book with chapter 15. But the added essay is agem that dazzles and illuminates.

You have to consult biographies like Brian Boyd'sfor the full, remarkable facts of Nabokov's life. A millionaire at 17(his sister danced in Diaghilev gowns with Fabergé gems at the WinterPalace), repeatedly exiled, forced to bust out of one chrysalis afteranother into new lives, the writer retained only the infinite wealth ofhis memory and art. This book is a mosaic shaped by a mind sometaphorical that, as a babe, Nabokov perceived letters as colors, thealphabet as a rainbow.

The loss of his father is at Speak, Memory's core.This memoir is worth owning for asingle paragraph alone, about the sight of Nabokov senior being tossedaloft by grateful peasants he'd been generous to--a dozen or so withlocked arms flinging him up in a hip-hip-hooray ritual.

There, for an instant, the figure of my father in his wind-rippled whitesummer suit would bedisplayed, gloriously sprawled in midair.... Thrice, to the mighty heave-hoof his invisible tossers, he would fly up ... and then there he would be, onhis last and loftiest flight, reclining, as if for good, against thecobalt blue of the summer noon, like one of those paradisiac personageswho comfortably soar, with such a wealth of folds in their garments, onthe vaulted ceiling of a church while below, one by one, the wax tapersin mortal hands light up to make a swarm of minute flames in the mist ofincense, and the priest chants of eternal repose, and funeral liliesconceal the face of whoever lies there, among the swimming lights, inthe open coffin.
Nabokov recaptures the paradise of his youth, andacquits himself of the coldness of which some accuse him. He plays literarygames, but he playsfor keeps. --Tim Appelo ... Read more

Customer Reviews (52)

4-0 out of 5 stars Making baubles from memories
"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic."--Speak, Memory

Vladimir Nabokov follows this precept, fondling the minute sensory and surface details of what he loved as a boy while skimming over the particulars of major events, such as his family's exile from Russia. Written as a series of essays and then compiled, Speak, Memory seems a sort of nonfiction slumming by the great novelist. In the middle of it he begins to refer to "you," and I realized he was addressing his wife, to whom the book is dedicated.

We're meant to find his indulgences charming, though he doesn't ask for sympathy--quite the contrary--when his aristocratic family loses everything. In the memoir's mix of scene, summary, and reflection, Speak, Memory is heavy on the latter two and especially weighted toward reflection. Its lack of emphasis on events, and the writer's cool eye, distance the reader emotionally from the story and its characters and shine the spotlight back on the brilliant writer making baubles from his memories.

I found Speak, Memory tedious, but in places Nabokov's writing ability dropped my jaw.

5-0 out of 5 stars Essential

This is an essential work by a master of English letters, and contains so many remarkable passages and turns of phrase that the entire work should be underlined.

Nabokov's technical mastery is in full flower here, and it is astonishing and delightful.

In addition, his word choice, themes, development, leitmotif, play, and story arc are all in top form. This is a book to re-read semi-annually.

The delightful close "Chapter 16" is a review of a previously published version, which itself contains puzzles and allusions to previous themes, that reseals the breaking of the fourth wall that astonishingly arrives in the work with the use of the word "you" (addressing the reader? addressing his wife? why are they confused? are we secretly sharing an intimacy with the author? no, we are at a distance...it is play yet again).

Highly recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars Nabokov's genius
I have recently read Speak, Memory and I am in awe of Nabokov's writing.
Nabokov collected butterflies throughout his life, and enjoyed the quest for rare specimen. This book is that very thing, a specimen fit for framing and mounting.
Net a copy,place it on the shelf and admire Nabokov's skill.

5-0 out of 5 stars "...our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."
So starts Nabokov in this excellent, impressionistic, nostalgic, deeply reflective memoir; an idyll to a privileged childhood in the last days of Czarist Russia. He goes on to say that: "...this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timelessness is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage." Having recently lost a friend to the eternal darkness, re-reading Nabokov, who made the most of that brief period of light, is cathartic.

Nabokov was born in 1899, and raised on an estate outside St. Petersburg, before it became Leningrad, and even longer before it reverted to its original name. He chased butterflies as a boy, which turned into a lifetime avocation as a renown lepidopterist. Like all of us, he is an exile from his youth, and wears it more than most, but he was twice exiled more: first from Russia as the Bolsheviks seized power, and then from Europe, when the Nazis were ascendant, finally finding an accommodating life in America. His family was part of the tiniest sliver of the Russian population, the very elite; the ones who are the subject of so many books, and the fantasies that the readers include themselves in. He learned to speak English before Russian, and his family would "winter" in Biarritz. He makes clear, in a reasonably convincing way the basis for his nostalgia: "My old (since 1917) quarrel with the Soviet dictatorship is wholly unrelated to any question of property. My contempt for the émigré who `hates the Reds' because they `stole' his money and land is complete. The nostalgia I have been cherishing all these years is a hypertrophied sense of lost childhood, not sorrow for lost banknotes... to yearn...beneath the sky of my America to sigh for one locality in Russia."

Many of the other reviewers praised the incisive originality of his prose, and I am clearly in that camp; a few criticized him for "showing off," alas, perhaps, but his candle should not be hidden under the bushel basket. Consider: "The sepia gloom of an arctic afternoon in midwinter invaded the rooms and was deepening to an oppressive black."Or, "Huddled together in a constant seething of competitive reminiscences..." Or, "I recall one particular sunset. It lent an ember to my bicycle bell." Or even: "The spiral is a spiritualized circle."And in America he learned to "cease barring my sevens."

Also consider his critique of Darwin's theory of "natural selection":"...when a protective device was carried to a point of mimetic subtlety, exuberance, and luxury far in excess of a predator's power of appreciation. I discovered in nature the nonutilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception."

There are a number of other excellent reviews of this book posted at Amazon, including a couple which highlight my subject line. It may not be THE autobiography of the 20th Century, but it is an essential read, particularly for those still trying to make the most of their time in that brief crack of time.

2-0 out of 5 stars and Nabokov is my favorite writer--next to Flaubert & Henry James
Mon, dis book one ponderous bore. You know how de Keats did one time urge Mr Shelley to go loading "every rift" wich "ore"?Well, Vlad here, he done one-upped de Romantics on dat:each sentence like much-much heavy--too heavy for de mind to lift, as it were.Molasses on de page, mon!!!i LOVE "Lolita" (me have read more dan 10 times) & have read all de odders N. write."Pale Fire" a undisputed masterpiece, mon.Dis to be avoid, mon--life too short for island boy!!!kisses (on de bum)!!! ... Read more

11. The Luzhin Defense
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 272 Pages (1990-08-11)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$8.45
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679727221
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Nabokov's third novel, The Defense, is a chilling story of obsession and madness. As a young boy, Luzhin was unattractive,distracted, withdrawn, sullen--an enigma to his parents and an object of ridicule to his classmates. He takes up chess as a refuge from the anxiety of his everyday life.His talent is prodigious and he rises to the rank of grandmaster--but at a cost:in Luzhin' s obsessive mind, the game of chess gradually supplants the world of reality. His own world falls apart during a crucial championship match, when the intricate defense he has devised withersunder his opponent's unexpected and unpredictabke lines of assault. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (31)

4-0 out of 5 stars Attacking Chess
The novel is built around a simple and brilliant idea - every second of life is precious, there is no time to waste, when it comes down to it chess is a waste of time ... there are better things to do. There were many men before (and after) Bobby Fischer who had became psyciatrically insane and pathetic through chess obsession, who were some of the real life models for Luzhin - Akiba Rubinstein or Nimzowitch perhaps?

People are drawn to chess for different reasons. One type attracted by chess are very intelligent and very creative people who want to use chess to demonstrate the utter superiority of their mind over their opponents - and indeed it is pleasant to play chess with someone who thinks they are good and to crush them, and indeed when one starts to get okay at chess and starts to know how to sue the pieces harmoniously some rather beautiful things occur on a chessboard.

The problem however is that chess is addictive. You get okay at chess and you are stunned by how much is necessary to learn. Not to just familiarize but to learn it very well burning it into long term memory - the demand of time and energy chess places on the mind becomes enormous and for these type of people chess risks becoming a waste of time. ... Cognitive dissonance ensues and spending half the waking day playing chess is justified because "one needs to find some way to occupy time in this existence."Such a defense fails for rather obvious reasons. ... Once someone gets okay enough at chess to take it seriously and competetively he/she will always find opponents just as good as him or better, at best then when playing chess seriously the player only demonstrates competency instead of brilliancy. The grim reality of chess is that even the best grandmasters are far from mastering the art of chess - there is more complexity and possibilities on a chess board than the human mind is really able to handle well, even for geniuses - this is the grim reality facing chess players and Nabokov presents a wonderful argument to simply not waste the precious time of life with a game.

Compared to other Nabokov novels it is rather sparse in alliterative brilliancy ... though of course some parts are pure alliterative gold. It is to me a rather simple and sad story best read slowly without much happiness in the tone. Among other things most literary people should be able to take from it, if nothing else, study of how a novelist creates and uses visual imagery. Compared to other literary books it isn't a very hard or long read and it is definitely worth, I'd argue, the 10-20 hours it takes to read through it.

5-0 out of 5 stars A masterful characterization miraculously ahead of its time
Rarely have been I so surprised by the emotional force of a novel as with Vladimir Nabokov's The Defense.It was not at all what I had expected based on descriptions I had heard through the years.I expected a novel about chess obsession leading to madness, replete with Nabokov's relentless intellectual games, many of them employing chess themes and imagery.

What I found instead was one of the more deeply moving and compassionate novels that I have ever read.

The central character of The Defense is Luzhin, whose first name is deliberately hidden from us by the author.Reading the novel with modern eyes, it is clear that Luzhin is somewhere on the autism spectrum.He cannot read other people's faces or understand their feelings.When his father learns of his mother's death, Luzhin sees the wet tears but cannot understand what his father is feeling; at first he thinks his father is making laughing sounds.Luzhin's social cognition issues also cause him terrible troubles at school, where he is bullied relentlessly.

Popular art is still struggling with how to depict characters on the autism spectrum. Rain Man was the first widely-viewed attempt, but Dustin Hoffman's character was a very extreme form of savant that the director never seemed to fully understand.A more recent film, Adam, presents Asperger's in a somewhat less extreme way, but still relies on a few unrealistic plot devices.Nabokov's novel, first penned in the 1920s, shows far more insights into the condition, almost miraculously so for the time of its composition.

I don't know enough about Nabokov's life to know whence this understanding originated.If Nabokov did know anyone on the autism spectrum, clearly he was somehow able to penetrate through with insight and compassion into his acquaintance's inner life, in a way far ahead of his time.

Any adult today who knows a child with spectrum issues is bound to be moved by the novel's account the loving but futile efforts of the father to somehow reach his son.Father writes sweet stories in which the boy is depicted as the main character.But everyone in this novel is trapped in a world in which these issues are little understood and therapies are essentially unavailable.And so Luzhin learns very little in the way of social cognition, and thus never truly understands his father's love, nor how to survive the terrors of the schoolyard.

Unable to master these social skills, Luzhin retreats to his internal world, and finds in chess an inexhaustible terrain of private mental exploration.One cannot help but think of Bobby Fischer, who clearly also suffered from similar social handicaps, and who was allowed to withdraw from school and to retreat into his own isolated chess world within his mother's Brooklyn apartment.Nabokov wrote this novel well before Fischer was born, but correctly predicted that individuals with these issues might well rise to the very top ranks of chess masters.

I haven't seen the film based on the novel, and I am reluctant to, based on accounts of how it deviates from the book.The book itself would make terrific cinema if faithfully followed.Many of the scenes in the novel read like what one would expect from 21st century movies, with their visual layouts, pacing, and emotional content.

This is particularly true of the novel's scenes depicting the relationship between Luzhin and the woman who loves him.She understands his limited ability to return that love, but also knows that somewhere in there is a brilliant, sensitive mind, even though he is dismissed as a lunatic by her family, and especially by her mother.I especially love the scene where Luzhin and his bride sit down to plan their honeymoon; Nabokov brilliantly conveys how all of the maps and catalogues appear to the mind of a man for whom sensory awareness is so keen, and always trumps social understanding.

But honestly - there is no need to create a faithful film adaptation of the book; the book itself leaves so many moving and haunting impressions on the mind and heart.

Of course, Nabokov didn't write this novel to be a treatise on Asperger's.He wrote it to create a unique character, an intellectually engaging work of art, and a compelling story.But the poignancy and tragedy of Luzhin's life feel so real that he is not readily forgotten.

5-0 out of 5 stars Endgame
For someone who hated psychoanalysis as much as Nabokov, he sure enjoyed exploring the foibles of the human mind.THE DEFENSE (which is the original, and correct[!!] title, the `Luzhin' added only after the movie adaptation), Nabokov's third novel, takes us into the mind of Aleksandr Luzhin, a troubled child who finds his intial escape in chess.Stunningly brilliant at the game, it completely takes over his life and, more importantly, his psyche.It is this latter battleground that Nabokov explores.The area is ripe for such exploration.Chess grandmasters have a nasty habit of going a bit bonkers around middle age.

Although Luzhin marries, his relationship with his wife, and everyone else, simply gets absorbed into the inner recesses of his increasingly obsessed mind.When he stumbles at a chess match against a fellow grandmaster, Lizhun breaks almost completely from reality.He gives up chess in order to restore his health.

But Nabokov knew the obsessive mind well.The chances of Luzhin turning his back on chess was nil to begin with and we get the backstage pass of watching Luzhin disintegrate a second time, this time for keeps.Chess may have been Luzhin's escape in his childhood, but it is now the man who tries in vain to escape the game.

An intensely introspective book, THE DEFENSE is remarkably well written, allowing readers to identify with, yet keep distant of, the main character.We watch Luzhin drawn inescapably towards his own destruction, seeing it a mile away and yet able to do nothing to stop it.Of course, this is Nabokov writing, possibly the greatest novelist of the 20th Century.One should expect any subject to illuminate under his prose.With THE DEFENSE, he did not disappoint.

3-0 out of 5 stars The Curse of the Maniacal
This book is not going to be for everyone. Although I can get into Nabokov's ecstasies as much as the next guy, this book is hard to get into.

The reason for that is admirable, I think, in that it seems to be exploring the mind of someone incredibly unstable and, because of that, the book itself is unstable and hard to follow. It's interesting, the way that Luzhin's wanderings and feeble fight against his own dementia drives him to improbably awkward moments of absurdity. However, this also makes the book irreconcilably sprawling and directionless.

Some people will enjoy this treatment, ultimately the only realistic one this subject would warrant--but aside from its insanity, the ending of the book was also less than satisfying in many ways, and to me that's a dealbreaker.

4-0 out of 5 stars Faltering towards endgame; Luzhin's defense
For a novel about Luzhin, a grandmaster, there's less chess than I expected. What you do glimpse unfolds often on a mystical plane within the player's mind, and this is how I imagine chess reveals itself to those skilled in its strategies, as if on a visionary understanding of the game, rather than merely mathematical tactics or rote calculation. More often the book's full of interiors as physically evoked and the memories they elicit-- typical for a Nabokov narrative-- told in the author's ruminative, ornamented, and calm style.

Luzhin grows up pre-revolution in Russia. He goes to school, is bullied, and finds solace in learning chess. He soon triumphs over his rivals until a showdown with Turati halts his rise. He suffers a nervous breakdown, marries, and struggles against the temptation, half-remembered, to return to the game that drove him over the edge. In exile among the emigré community, he must decide how he will respond to the opportunity to play again. The pace remains steady until the last pages, when it satisfyingly accelerates. Nabokov over and over manages to pull a fiction from a melancholy or contemplative state into a dramatic epiphany as the tale reaches its end. Here, for Luzhin, such a revelation unfolds exactly as it should.

Every time I read Nabokov, a few sentences deserve attention. Here's a sample. His father hears his son elsewhere in the house: "Little Luzhin would go away, trailing his satchel over the carpet; Luzhin senior would lean his elbow on the desk, where he was writing one of his usual stories in his exercise books (a whim which, perhaps, some future biographer would appreciate), and listen to the monologue in the neighboring dining room, to his wife's silence persuading the silence to drink a cup of cocoa." (32) The alienation of the father from the son, and the son from his mother in turn, and the strangeness of the silence itself as heard by the separated father all echo poignantly in this domestic setting.

Luzhin, grown-up-- although he never seems quite mature compared to his fully sketched father-- wanders in Berlin and sees a strange site near where his father used to live. "Presently he stopped stock-still in front of a stationery store where the wax-dummy of a man with two faces, one sad and the other joyful, was throwing open his jacket alternately to left and right: the fountain pen clipped to his left pocket of his white waistcoat had sprinkled the whiteness with ink, while on the right was the pen that never ran. Luzhin took a great fancy to the bifacial man and even thought of buying him." (204) The passage goes on to drift into the things his father had left behind after his death. The odd description illustrates, with pleasing suggestion yet an indirect symbolism, off-kilter, the patterns of alternating color that still dominate Luzhin's consciousness after his collapse and his withdrawal from the clashes on the chessboard.

This is an understated novel, his third, published in Russian in 1930. It does not dazzle in the way that his more famous works do, and the four stars are only given therefore by fair comparison with these later, English-language classics. (Another writer would earn five!) Nabokov's forward in expected manner mocks nimbly the "Viennese delegation" of Freudian critics overreading his every reference. While Nabokov gives away slyly the whole plot in advance, his prefaced explanations of the chess patterns in the storyline will assist readers who, like myself, struggle otherwise to keep up with such a master of narrative moves. ... Read more

12. Transparent Things
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 128 Pages (1989-10-23)
list price: US$13.00 -- used & new: US$6.70
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679725415
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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A novel of dreams, memory and the past recaptured; murder, madness, imprisonment...and a final sentimental journey. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (16)

5-0 out of 5 stars A Miniature Masterpiece
Vladimir Nabokov is one of the giants of the 20th century literature, and this very short novella is a perfect example of his writing genius. Despite the book's brevity (about 100 pages in the print edition), it is exceedingly complex and probably one of his more ambitious works. Its complexity will probably be insurmountable to someone unfamiliar with Nabokov's, especially later, writings. If you are looking to read something by Nabokov for the first time, this would not be the best place to start. The book is replete with wordplays, literary allusions and other tricks of trade for which he is famous. The plotline as such is hard to discern, and one cannot help but feel that the entire book is some very elaborate practical joke on his unsuspecting and naïve readers. This is especially likely since a lot of the material in the book deals with writing and publishing professions, even though these are touched upon in the most oblique of ways. Nabokov also peppers his narrative with instances of his protagonists' rather salacious sex lives, although these references are intellectualized to the point of being unrecognizable as passionate affairs of the flesh. This relentless intellectualization of people's lives done in a masterly literary style is precisely the most intriguing aspect of Nabokov's writing, and the reason why most of his works, this one included, are worth reading and rereading. Each repeated reading brings into focus new aspects of his work, and makes his novels feel eternally fresh and interesting. Few writers are able to accomplish the same feat.

4-0 out of 5 stars Far from his best
Genius delights in its own genius. Nabokov's verbal brilliance delights in playing games with his characters and their realities. But the greatest Literature touches the heart. And this story has little story and little character and very little to touch the heart. The main character Parsons is one whose heart is fragmented in such a way that we cannot really feel any deep emotion for his fine perceptions. Who cares what happens to him, or what goes on next? One reads only hoping for some spark of the old Nabokean fire which to my mind has burned most brightly in 'Speak Memory' 'Pnin' and 'Ada'. All in all this is very far from his best and however elegant the intricacies of its games it gives off no human warmth whatsoever.

5-0 out of 5 stars Autopsy of an unfortunate life lived...unfortunately

With nary a page wasted nor too many, Nabokov dissects the life of one Hugh Person--a life otherwise unworthy of particular note except for what Person does one night...in his sleep.

In just over 100 pages Nabokov has crafted a surprisingly rich and evocative psychological thriller that is also high literary art. The stunning use of language and narrative technique is every bit as enjoyable and challenging as the story itself. Nabokov is a prose stylist with very few peers and that makes this novelette something quite special.

The story of Hugh Person, murderer, starts off without much hint of what is to come. Indeed, it takes a while, even in such a short work, to figure out what Nabokov is up to in telling the life-story of such an unspectacular person-age. But Hugh will fall rather hopelessly in love on a business trip to Europe with a woman as complicated as he is "simple." Working as an editor/proofreader to a great--if eccentric and notoriously difficult--author Hugh, who seems doomed to mediocrity in his own life, is not only out of his league, but out of his orbit in the company of Armande. She has him wrapped around her little toe, almost literally, and this sort of obsessive relationship can never end well. In fact, its always only a matter of how badly such connections end.

This one ends just about as badly as it gets.

Nabokov is a joy to read--if you love the sensual and intellectual possibilities inherent in language when utilized by a virtuoso. Transparent Things is minimalist Nabokov--allusive and elusive.--but no less challenging than anything else he's written. A late novel, but a great one, it's often overlooked when looking at Nabokov's oeuvre--it shouldnt be!

5-0 out of 5 stars Nabokov: The Thin Ice of Presence - Meaningful Meaninglessness of Now
A couple of passages (see below) from Nabokov's "Transparent Things" inspired me to write the following thoughts that I hope will help you pre-view this work of his.

The passages in question:

"A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film."

"When we concentrate on a material object <...> the very act of attention may lead to our involuntary sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want to stay at the exact level of the moment."

The thoughts that these passages inspired in me:

Meaning is an association of what is now with what once was...

Take a look at any object in your immediate environment: say, you are looking at a "so-called" (I'll explain the "so-called" parenthetical in a few moments) cup. Say, I picked it up from your desk and asked: "What is this?" You'd say: "A cup." And I'd say: "No, what is this?" After a moment of bemusement, you might offer: "A mug?" And I - with the best of the poker faces - would stay firm: "No, what is this?" After a pause and/or after a little friendly prodding from me, you might suggest: "A container for liquids?" To welcome the emerging looseness of your associations, I'd kick the door of your mind with a more clue-like question: "Yes... What else could this object be?" With this prompt, you'd likely fire off a series of ideas: "A paper-weight, a weapon if you throw it, a small hand-held shovel..."

So here we are: what used to be a cup now has acquired some additional meanings, by virtue of re-association...

Where am I going with this? Okay: let me reiterate the thesis: meaning is an association. When, as kids, we first encounter a new object, we ask: "Mom/Dad, what is this?" "It's a fork," Mom/Dad programs our mind... "And this (fill in the blank)?" Mom/Dad: "This is (fill in the blank)."

Meaning is a process of filling in the blanks of the mind... with words... that trigger other words... that trigger more words... As we grow and acquire language, we, in essence, acquire a baggage of associations that weighs us down as we try to skate the thin ice of presence.

Vladimir Nabokov, in Transparent Things, writes: "When we concentrate on a material object <...> the very act of attention may lead to our involuntary sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want to stay at the exact level of the moment."

Nabokov, the great Russian-English novelist, whose own style is so ingeniously laden with association-rich detail, here, both de-constructs his own style and defines Zen: "A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film."

Nabokov's advice is straight from Buddhism: to stay in the moment, we must somehow avoid weighing down "what is" with our pre-conceived notions of "what it means."

As we encounter reality, we continuously make meaning, i.e. we associate "what is" with "what it means." In so doing, we continuously confuse the Present for the Past. "Oh," we think with quickly fading interest, "this is a fork" as we look at a "so-called" (I'll explain the "so-called" parenthetical in a few moments) fork.

Nabokov proclaims: "Transparent things, through which the past shines!"

Yes: the Present is Transparent. If seen as such, not through the lens of past associations, it has the proverbial clarity of enlightenment. But how elusive this way of seeing, or rather not seeing! How thin this ice of Presence!

Meaning is an artifact of the Past, not the actual fact of the Present. Things that we have not yet encountered have no meaning to us. And when we encounter something new, we are understandably startled. The more we live, the more reality we manage to label with words of meaning, the heavier is the baggage of our associations. And as we progress in time, we lose the spontaneity of the response: we've seen it all, nothing's new, everything has been already categorized...

So, instead of seeing reality as it is, we see a "so-called" reality - a reality that we so called, a reality of our own associations, a reflection of our subjective life experience, documented in the narrative of choice. Language constructs perception: first, the word, then, the perceived reality.

If we call this This "this," so it becomes "so-called."

Case in point: the ones of us who have avoided the correctional side of society (whether it is on the side of an inmate or a prison guard) look at a so-called fork, we see a utensil, rather a weapon because for us this object has come to mean exactly that. An inmate or a prison guard looks at the very same fork, and sees an opportunity or a threat, respectively, i.e. a very different reality...

But in reality, we are all imprisoned in our "so-called" realities of habitual interpretation. Buddhism, particularly, Zen Buddhism, offers a way out of this prison: non-discursive thought. Mindfulness - as a practice - can be understood as interpretive silence: witness but don't label, witness but don't describe, witness what is as it is, avoid the lens of the past associations.

As such, mindfulness is a form of meaninglessness. And that is its existential meaning!

Seeing the reality as is, not through the distorting prism of past associations, allows us the invigorating encounter with the novelty of Now: after all, this moment that you almost dismissed as something that you've already seen, is entirely unprecedented. This Now is, in fact, the only news!

To Nabokov, skimming the Present without sinking into the Past is a miracle that befits only the most experienced: "Otherwise the inexperienced miracle-worker will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish" (if I may add) under the weight of past associations.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D.
Author of "Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time" (New Harbinger, Nov. 2008)

5-0 out of 5 stars Terrific!
Some writers--early Ian McEwan comes to mind--seem to be less interested in plot and character than they are in the power of their prose to capture a scene, a moment, or an experience. In TRANSPARENT THINGS, Nabokov performs his variation on such magic, creating a story that, in summary, is very dark and tragic but that is also secondary to its playful and droll tone. Undeniably, Nabokov's protagonist, Hugh Person, is both the agent and victim of tragedy. But the Nab's writing is so precise and masterfully amused that this novella's sad story seems almost incidental. For this reader, TRANSPARENT THINGS was primarily a wry comedy as Nabokov leads the goofy Hugh from scene to scene. Then, inexplicable anger, and perhaps madness, erupts.

Nabokov's writing in this novella is superb, especially near the end. Here's just one example, which only he could write:

"Earth and sky were drained of all color. It was either raining or pretending to rain or not raining at all, yet still appearing to rain in a sense that only certain old Northern dialects can either express verbally or not express, but versionize, as it were, through the ghost of a sound produced by drizzle in a haze of grateful rose shrubs. 'Raining in Wittenberg, but not in Wittgenstein.' An obscure joke..."

Highly recommended.

... Read more

13. Look at the Harlequins!
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 272 Pages (1990-06-16)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$8.70
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679727280
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I've gathered from incidental references, both the New York Times book review and Adam Robert's blog, that Look at the Harlequins! is regarded as one of Nabokov's lesser works, off-focus from even his midrange stuff and a larger magnitude below works like Lolita or Pale Fire; that Nabokov fictionalizes his autobiography to no great end, and that the narrative collapses away to defeatism. For my part, I liked it well enough, but can't deny the criticism. The edition I checked out from the library for this end was a collection of Nabokov's last few novels, and compared with Transparent Things or (my personal favorite) Ada it is a lesser work. But I'd still say it's a major accomplishment, engaging and interesting, better than most novels. The prose is as beautiful as always, the dialog and description both first rate. One of the things that most struck me in this work--and something I'll have to look for in others--is the effectiveness of description of the body, its significance, power and fragility. A brief scene of the protagonist putting on a rob and going by the window carries such pathos, from age, from position, from the not completely defeated aspirations--it's precisely in the banality of such small moments that Nabokov shines.

On the larger questions of plot and characterization one runs into the central issue of judging a fictionalized autobiography. It's difficult to assess how much is gained by this approach, that is to say the broader relevance of this approach beyond Nabokov's own life. I wasn't as bothered going through by the question of how much Vadimovich's life resembled Nabokov--though I do have a strong urge to read Speak, Memory now. I was most curious on how the explicit political views compared, the sensory details and subjective actions I'm prepared to accept as fundamentally novelistic. And in that light it's a worthwhile story, tracking Vadimovich's travels and life of quiet escape. Like Ada (although less effectively) the story's structure grounds memory, with both explicit judgement and

So, in conclusion a very strong work which I heartily recommend. I'm pretty sure that everyone wouldn't enjoy it, though, and I'm not even sure that I'm in the ideal position to read it--perhaps I would like it more or less if I'd read all of his earlier work and had a closer awareness of his life (although the Vintage Three Volume edition had a nice detailed timeline at the back that provided a fair bit of context). Maybe my approach to not ending with the last is flawed after all. Although perhaps this (call it a) novel is most valuable not for the direct story but for the way it destabilizes categories of thought and memory, including an explicit destabilizing of fact/fiction and story/self. Of course all fiction has an element of the auto-biographical in it, but making this trend much stronger can cause some interesting breakdown.

This work reminded me of but was better than: Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year.
This work reminded me of but was worse than: Nabokov's Ada.

5-0 out of 5 stars Terrific Read
Most of the enjoyment with this book is the discovery of Nabokov's creation. Frankly, I suggest that you skip the reviews here, close your eyes for the moment and simply read the book - the same recommendation that I make for most of his books. Read the comments later. By the way, the novel has nothing to do with Harlequin romance novels - or maybe it does indirectly.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 to 1977) is a Russian born writer who went to Cambridge, then lived in western Europe, the US, and finally retired in Switzerland. He has a medium sized body of work with numerous novels, short works, and well known non-fiction. Most know him for his 1955 creation of Lolita, which he wrote and re-wrote for over twenty years before the final product. It was based on a real life French story, but set in America. He has 20 novels.

Eleven of Nabokov's novels come from his early European period when he could write in many languages but he wrote his first 11 novels all in Russian. The present work is from his Swiss period, that is from his retirement years, written in English and one of his last novels. It was published in 1974.

Without revealing too much about the plot, it is a story of a fictional Vadim Vadimovich who lived at the same time as the author and who has a life similar to the author including a love off butterflies, writing, and living in similar cities and towns. However, we must assume it is a work of fiction and leave if for the reader to discover the details.

It is a very humorous and entertaining a book. I have read about half of his novels and thought it was excellent but a touch short of his best. It is a matter of taste, but I liked "King, Queen, Knave" and "Laughter in the Dark" as his best works, notwithstanding "Pale Fire" and "Lolita."

It is an entertaining read but not his best work. Saying that, readers will be far from disappointed and there are many funny sections.

4-0 out of 5 stars A pleasant stroll through an alternate reality
LATH will not go down as Nabokov's most memorable or widely-read work.In fact, if it weren't for the novels that preceded it, it would probably be forgotten.And it's not a work I would recommend to anyone who hasn't already read most of N's other fiction.But to a diehard Nabokovian, LATH offers enough pleasures to make the read (and the wait) worthwhile.

Yes, it appears to be a "fictionalized" autobiography of Nabokov, with some key changes (Nabokov professed to be most content with life, while the same could not be said for LATH's protagonist-cum-"author", Vadim Vadimovich).Thus, one will not get much out of the book unless one has read N's other work and knows a bit about his life.

What make this novel truly enjoyable are (a) N's trademark wordplay (not as great as in "Lolita" and "Ada", but still magnificent); (b) small moments of genuine joy (as in the coy but cute resolution of Vadim's psychological conundrum); and (c) some excellent Nabokovian narrative tricks:Vadim feels he is living someone else's life and at one point appears to be on the verge of realizing that he is, in fact, Vladimir Nabokov (try wrapping your mind around that!)--only to have the epiphany slip away.

LATH should (as another reviewer recommended) be saved for last.Those who do get around to reading it, though, will almost surely enjoy it.I get a kick just thinking of the old guy--pushing 75, but still as vibrant and full of tricks as ever.That he never won a Nobel Prize is an terrible shame.

1-0 out of 5 stars Commendable for its entertaining use of the word "dilatory"
The only thing Nabokov accomplished here was to induce me to yawn at the head harlequin. HARLEQUINS is an exercise in (no--better make that "an excretion of") self-congratulatory lit-chat. It's a roman-a-clef that makes all the obligatory allusions to Nabokov's self-overrated oeuvre. It is a suffocating borefest. I got the distinct sensation of being hermetically sealed far up the netherlands of Nabokov's preening patoot. Although I did enjoy the following passage:

"Would I like to know something? (Dilatory sip and lip lick.) Well, at all my five public readings since the first on September 3, 1928, in the Salle Planiol, she had been present, she had applauded till her palms (showing palms) ached, and had made up her mind that next time she'd be smart and plucky enough to push her way through the crowd (yes, crowd--no need to smile ironically) with the firm intention of clasping my hand and pouring out her soul in a single word, which, however, she could never find--and that's why, inexorably, she would always be left standing and beaming like a fool in the middle of the vacated hall."

5-0 out of 5 stars Metafictional Madness
Beginning with a list of the author's "other" books, which don't exist outside the distorted mirror world of what Nabakov calls "LATH" (as he acronymically pegs Look At The Harlequins! within that book's own text) is a wildly inventive metafiction in the bilingually verbose hyper-alliterative Nabokovian mold. We get splendid sentences here on the jeweled gift of selfhood giving reason to resist suicide from whatever facet, cranky meditations on the author's pederastic proclivities and ego, and, most brilliantly, strange slips down the semiotic slope into madness.In two or three places in this book we find ourselves in a meticulously rendered literary reality and then, through a process of what one might call overdescription as exquisite as it is subtle, we find that our narrator has lost contact with the very rich world he has created for us; there is also a (to me) fascinating motif of the author's self-analysis of a strange spatial or geographical malady: he cannot mentally reverse himself and return after picturing a scene in his mind's eye.(This perhaps is meant as a sly parallel to time's one-way flow: time, which via the magic of the book, as opposed to the temporal incarceration of life, can be reversed--a hint of a kind of "law of nature" that might apply to a "real" metafictional character.) And despite the hefty overlap of the life of the protagonist with that of Nabokov (e.g., he has English tutors, Russian aristocratic blood, contempt for psychoanalysts, and the like), this book is clearly metafiction. The protagonist here, as with the protagonists in Transparent Things and Lolita, is fascinated by butterflies but not an entomologist of Nabokov's caliber. What makes LATH different from the work of other authors of metafiction's alluringly magical, "self"-indulgent mode, depends on the previous richness Nabokov has built up in his fictions which, from the Russian-drafted Gift to Humbert Humbert in Lolita,*already* deal with a protagonist much like the author.Thus the slippage here is not dual, between the author and his protagonist, but "trial" (as one might say), between the author, his protagonist, and the lives of his other protagonists, memorably Humbert Humbert of Lolita. Nabokov is having sly taunts: not only atAmerica's image of him as author of Lolita, but at himself for being too quick to disidentify from that potent catcher of words and nymphs,
and finally perhas, at the ontological conceit of a fixed self that could be wholly either one or another.The protagonist here is a dialectical monster flitting between Nabokov and Humbert Humbert, a monster Nabokov himself capture's like a moth between LATH's pages. The last, and in some ways perhaps richest novel from a modern master. ... Read more

14. Despair
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 240 Pages (1989-05-14)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$4.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679723439
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Extensively revised by Nabokov in 1965--thirty years after its original publication--Despair is the wickedly inventive and richly derisive story of Hermann, a man who undertakes the perfect crime--his own murder. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (22)

4-0 out of 5 stars Standing on the shoulders of Dostoyevsky, Nabokov hits a homer.
I'm not the biggest fan of autobiographical prose; the meandering, self-referential, reflective brand of writing one encounters when digesting the memoirs of such and such a person. More often than not, they are interspersed with tedious amounts of trivial, self-absorbed contemplation; too many references to events passed, experiences felt, and things of chief importance to the author, but of less significance to the reader. So, it was with some difficulty that I began reading Despair. Complicating things, Nabokov makes use of a rather large vocabulary - I found myself thumbing through the dictionary more times than I generally do well reading fiction.
However, having stuck with it and completed the book (the length of which is rather short, but made to seem longer by its aforementioned attributes) I can say that the work is, if not brilliant, slightly short of brilliance. It is a testament to the ability of a great author when his craft can hook you in such a way that you forget you are reading fiction and actually begin to believe you are reading autobiographical non-fiction. Having completed the final chapters - which were far more lively than the introductory ones - I began to appreciate all the ruminating and dwelling, and indeed, that is Despair's central theme - fixation; the complete and utter obsession on one moment, one act.
The book draws some parallels to Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, and indeed, even cites it by name. However, the plot is structured almost the exact opposite to that literary classic, or so it would seem...to divulge more would be to give up the books classic twist. We will leave it at this; where as in Crime and Punishment the protagonist is filled with contempt and disgust for his act when confronted with the reality of it, The main Character in Despair is thoroughly enraptured by what he has done, and spends much of the book trying to convince you of the merits of his crime, the value of his art.
So if you happen to pick up this book one day, and find it a bit tedious to start, I recommend sticking with it, because, as with all great works of fiction, the payoff is great. When you finally learn why the novel is titled despair, you will be winking, smiling, and nudging yourself.

3-0 out of 5 stars Contempt
What happens when Nabokov writes a murder mystery with no mystery? _Despair_. Not bad, but a Nabokovian take on a conventional tale. He often writes repugnant protagonists, but he makes them compelling and sympathetic. This is not the case here, in my reading. Hermann someone I wouldn't want to spend time with in a room, so even the 212 pages of text were a little much. There is little in the way of plot or characters to recommend the book, but stylistically Nabokov hits his stride and makes the novel compelling just for his language.

However, a caveat based on my emotional response. Nabokov's writing feels often as if it was written with a sneer. This is hard to quantify but an feeling that comes across to this long-time reader. This sneer is written on his face and embedded in his prose. I'm not sure if this is a sneer of arrogance or contempt; maybe it represents both. I'm also not sure if the contempt is for his readers, his critics, or himself.

5-0 out of 5 stars You! Hypocrite Reader! My Double! My Brother!
(Title purloined from Charles Baudelaire)

"Despair" is structurally one of Nabokov's most conventional novels. It's the tale of the plotting, executing, and unraveling of a 'perfect crime' - in this version, a murder for insurance - and the bare plot could have been handled by any of dozens of mystery hacks. What lifts "Despair" to a higher state as literature is the implicit dialogue, psychological as well as verbal, between the murderous narrator and the reader.

That Narrator, Hermann, is insufferable from the very first sentence: "If I were not perfectly sure of my power to write and of my marvelous ability to express ideas with the utmost grace and vividness..." But grace is hardly thehallmark of Hermann's style of narration; he's smug, parenthetical, digressive, and self-congratulatory throughout. Long before you the reader catch the spoor of Hermann's 'perfect' crime and escape - which turn out to be hopelessly imperfect and naive - you begin to despise the poor narcissistic bungler and to yearn for his come-uppance. What justifies Hermann's conception of his own marvelous writing talent is his allusive, evasive, condescending, snotty and snarky word-play, for which you will surely detest him... until you look in his mirror and see yourself, a person who delights in the snakiest word-play, who in fact is reading Nabokov precisely out of glee at such sophisticated verbosity. You! Dear Nabokov fan! If you attempted a 'perfect crime' wouldn't it be much like Hermann's? Would you be any less digressive and parenthetical? And wouldn't you also deceive yourself fatally?

Mirrors appear often in "Despair", often enough for a literary critic to pounce on their significance. "Despair" is another of Nabokov's books about a look-alike double, a theme that occurs so regularly in his work that one might suspect a mental aberration, a variation of Capgras Syndrome in the author. Whether the 'double' - Felix, a hobo - is really a mirror-twin of the narrator in anyone else's eyes is a question deliberately left open for the reader. The real issue of doubles, however, is the implied similarity of the writer and the reader.

Empathy with an insufferably egotistical murderer, by the by, seems more socially acceptable than empathy with a similarly insufferable middle-aged scholar who has a fetish for barely-pubescent girls. That's the lesson I draw from readers' responses to this novel compared with Lolita. No one, absolutely no one declares the the subject-matter of "Despair" is beyond the pale of empathy. Interesting...

"Despair" is NOT one of Nabokov's incomparable triumphs. It ends rather predictably, formulaically. Its virtues are in its details of language, once the reader overcomes her/his aversion towards the narrator. And just for thrills, for bonus points as it were, Nabokov lets Hermann in Chapter Six spout the most irrefutable, ineffably snarky demonstration of the non-existence of God you'll ever read. There are numerous snippy asides in "Despair" about Dostoyevsky and his novels Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. Hermann's atheistical digression is patently a response to "Dusty's" mysticism. That's the kind of detail I refer to when I say that this is a book to be read for the pleasure of its digressions.

5-0 out of 5 stars great piece of literature
This book is really hard to get into, but once you push yourself, you'll really get into it. Nabokov is an amazing writer. Every character is just an exploration into the depths of language. Also, he really gets into the mindset of his characters. Thats why the writing in this book seems a little cold, a little distant...
So if you are up for something different, I would recommend this book.

4-0 out of 5 stars A most literary homicide...

With deliberate reference to Dostoyevsky, and sideways glances at Poe and Kafka, Nabokov's *Despair* takes on the classic literary theme of `the double' with gruesome, and often hilarious, results. Hermann, a failed businessman and aspiring writer, relates his story of one day coming by chance upon a tramp in the woods who bears a striking resemblance to himself. Alternatively repulsed, fascinated, and obsessed by his `twin,' he concocts a plan to commit the perfect murder...the criminal equivalent of the perfect novel.

Nabokov draws out the metaphor between murder and art all the way to the eerie conclusion of *Despair* and his self-conscious narrator is the perfect mouthpiece for expounding the central theme: the art of crime and the crime of art. Vain, egotistical, insecure, capricious...Hermann is the quintessential unreliable narrator, a self-admitted liar from childhood who lies simply for the pure creative joy of it. An artist, in other words...and, in this case, an author. Hermann creates fictions and his murder plot will be his `masterpiece,' except there are always a few flaws in any masterpiece and critics aplenty to point them out. In the case of murder, the critics are the police and a bad review means arrest, imprisonment, and possibly a death sentence.

*Despair,* in spite of its title, is a lot of fun, poking fun as it does at the conventions of the novel even as it exploits each and every one of them. In a sense, it's a book about writing as much, if not more than, the murder that is actually being written about. Nabokov thus adroitly turns an otherwise relatively conventional crime story into an existential commentary on the absurdity of the human condition and the ultimate failure of the artist to apprehend an entirely satisfactory expression of this absurdity. The question is: Can an artist get away with murder? Is any crime ((art)) perfect?

Whether as an extended and metaphoric meditation on art and personal identity or as a nifty, twisted tale of a mind unraveling into psychosis and murder, *Despair* is an impeccably written, entertaining, and intelligent novel by one of the 20th century's greatest writers.
... Read more

15. Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: Pages (1998-01)
list price: US$7.50 -- used & new: US$5.89
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0822206838
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (7)

1-0 out of 5 stars Don't get burned - this is a play, not the novel
Amazon needs to add the word "PLAY" to it's headline on this item. This is not the novel Lolita, it's a play based on the novel by Edward Albee.

3-0 out of 5 stars Review for Albee's version
This is a review for the way the item is being described on Amazon. This is a stage script of 'Lolita' as adapted by Edward Albee. The reviews seem to indicate that this is the actual work by Nabokov, it is not. Since I'm not interested in reading a stage version of the book before reading the book, I have no idea if the adaptation was any good.

1-0 out of 5 stars Albee's Play Neglects the Moral in Nabokov's "Lolita"
"Lolita", the novel, is a sylistic masterpiece, similar to "Madame Bovary".But Edward Albee has slaughtered it by leaving out the fate (being tried and sentenced for murder)of Humbert Humbert.You might say that whereas Nobokov has humor, Albee simply attempts to shock.Well, he fails on several counts.

1-0 out of 5 stars This item is the play, not the novel
The title and author make it look like the novel. However, this item is a play by Edward Albee, based on the work by Nabokov. You can see this if you read the full review. I am rating this a "1" because I wanted the book, not the play. However, the play maybe fantastic, so if a play is what you really want, disregard my review.

5-0 out of 5 stars Albee play separate from Nabokov's novel
For some reason, on the Amazon site section devoted to the Edward Albee stage adaptation of Lolita, there are only the same customer reviews and editorial reviews that are found on the site section devoted to Nabokov's novel.Someone at Amazon needs to notice that the Albee play and the Nabokov novel are separate works, and that they should not be mixed up in this way. ... Read more

16. The Annotated Lolita: Annotated edition (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 544 Pages (2000-07-27)
list price: US$20.51 -- used & new: US$14.59
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 014118504X
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
When "Lolita" was first published in 1955 it created a sensation and established Nabokov as one of the most original prose writers of the twentieth century. This annotated edition, a revised and considerably expanded version of the 1970 edition, does full justice to the textual riches of "Lolita", illuminating the elaborate verbal textures and showing how they contribute to the novel's overall meaning. Alfred Appel, Jr. also provides fresh observations on the novel's artifice, games and verbal patternings and a delightful biographical vignette of Nabokov. The annotations themselves were prepared in consultation with Nabokov while newly identified allusions were confirmed by him during the final years of his life.Amazon.com Review
In 1954 Vladimir Nabokov asked one American publisher toconsider "a firebomb that I have just finished puttingtogether." The explosive device: Lolita, his morality play abouta middle-aged European's obsession with a 12-year-old Americangirl. Two years later, the New York Times called it "greatart." Other reviewers staked a higher moral ground (the editor ofthe London Sunday Express declaring it "the filthiest bookI've ever read"). Since then, the sinuous novel has never ceasedto astound.Even Nabokov was astonished by its place in the popularimagination. One biographer writes that "he was quite shockedwhen a little girl of eight or nine came to his door for candy onHalloween, dressed up by her parents as Lolita." And when it cametime to casting the film, Nabokov declared, "Let them find adwarfess!"

The character Lolita's power now exists almost separately from theendlessly inventive novel. If only it were read as often as it isalluded to. Alfred Appel Jr., editor of the annotated edition, hasappended some 900 notes, an exhaustive, good-humored introduction, anda recent preface in which he admits that the "reader familiarwith Lolita can approach the apparatus as a separate unit, but theperspicacious student who keeps turning back and forth from text toNotes risks vertigo." No matter. The notes range fromtranslations to the anatomical to the complex textual. Appel is alsohappy to point out the Great Punster's supposedly unintended wordplay: he defends the phrase "Beaver Eaters" as "aportmanteau of 'Beefeaters' (the yeoman of the British royal guard)and their beaver hats." ... Read more

Customer Reviews (78)

4-0 out of 5 stars She was Lo, plain Lo without the annotations
I came across the unannotated version of Lolita in summer 2004 when I was a raging philosophy maniac whose obsession was everything existentialism and thinking about The Meaning of Life - in general, I wasn't a very happy person to say the least.

Toward the end of a strenuous and almost cruel summer reading syllabus I had imposed on myself (Soren and Friedrich I could handle, but Martin and J.P. gave me the existential headache), came this brilliant gem of fiction, an oasis in the desert of angst and bad faith, a breather for my nothingness of a mind that craved being-not-in-the-world. Thanks to Vivian Darkbloom, I achieved veritable transcendence of my ego.

Onto my impressions of the novel. I remember the first part being tantalizingly erotic and second part average. So engrossed was I in poor Humbert Humbert's fantasies and seduction that, in a manner of speaking I had to repeatedly resort to the good old manuo-frictional means of extinguishing the fire of my loins. The second part, however, disappointed me and when I began my second fill of Lolita, I remembered nothing about the second part, save the scene where Humbert Humbert makes an advance at Dolores when she's studying and she says, "Oh not again."

Gentlemen and ladies of the jury, if you have had your fill of Lolita once without the benefit of the annotations, you can easily understand my plight when I decided to go through it again, especially when one is loath to have recourse to the all too conventional means of extinguishing the aforementioned fire. But my apprehensions, it turns out, came to naught.

The annotations, I must confess, are tremendously helpful. I did not recognize to what magnitude I missed the allusions, echoes, jokes, and delightful word plays our Hum engages in. It is staggering how much he is able to weave into the narrative. Frankly, I missed, without exaggeration, 100% of it. I was, as the diligent annotator notes in his recondite and illuminating 64-page introduction, Nabokov's ideal reader-puppet.

Not so, this time. Thanks to the annotations and two years of reading hard literature plus two years of French, I was able to see the cracks and holes in Lolita and enjoy it as an artistic artifice that it is. Strangely, I experienced no tumescence - not one bit - and enjoyed it on a totally different aesthetic level.

In short, although the prolix and detailed annotations may have taken away from the reading experience, I still enjoyed Lolita very much. There are slow parts, however, I had a hard time getting through. For example, the first 20 pages of Part Deux where H.H. and Dolly travel across les etats unis boasts more than enough expositions to drive you to the edge of despair and tantrum.

My favorite scenes are, in order: 1)the last scene with Humbert and Quilty; 2) the Enchanted Hunters hotel scene; and 3) the interviews with the Beardsley School headmistress. Like any work of literature, there are more than its fair share of slow parts whose necessity is in big question at least from the humble reader's perspective.

Insofar as the novel manages to both engage on the gut emotional level (especially the first time without the annotations) and intellectual, literary, and artistic level, Lolita remains, and will remain, one of my absolute favorites.

The four stars for the second level of reading. Overall, I give it 5 stars.

Another must read.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great Edition of a Great Book
This is one of the most remarkable books ever written in the English language. I read in awe poetic language whose fluency is simply extraordinary, doubly so given Nabakov's Russian birth. The insights into human nature are shocking and have affected me deeply over the years since I first read it. This particular edition is well supported by a delightful introduction and comprehensive and thoroughly helpful annotations.

5-0 out of 5 stars Elphinstone Is In Utah
There's not really much I can add to the reviews of "The Annotated Lolita."Everyone seems to have everything covered.But I will say this edition of the book is the one you want if you have read the book for the first time, were dazzled, and want to know more (that's how I came to it.)Appel appears to have tracked down every allusion Nabokov makes, which almost led me to believe that Nabokov was playing another game, disguising himself as a Prof. Appel (I later learned to my mild disappointmentthat the man actually did exist.)

I will add one minor detail.Nabokov spent a little time in Utah on several trips, for academic reasons and looking for butterflies: a couple of visits were several months in duration.I live in Utah, so it was with some delight that I spotted a few hints that Elphinstone, the small town were Humbert loses Lo, is based on a town in Utah.The physical description matches the terrain of several Utah valleys.The clinchers are: in the hospital Humbert reads the newspaper the "Deseret News", the local LDS-church-owned paper that still exists.And Humbert says that Elphinstone is a small town graced with a temple.In the 1940's this could only have meant Manti, St George, Logan, or even Salt Lake, which might have looked like a small town to the worldly Nabokov.In any case, the temple and the newspaper seem to definitively pin down the fictional Elphinstone as a Utah town.(I also have a pet theory that Cedarn, the small mountain town where Kinbote frantically writes his notes in Pale Fire (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) is Cedar City in southwestern Utah.But there's no way to prove this as certain.)

4-0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected...
I'll start by saying this book is nothing like I expected it to be. From reading reviews for the movie Lolita, I expected this to be a story about a man who happens to fall in love with a teenage girl. It was continually referred to as a 'beautiful love story'. I don't know if the movie was changed drastically from the book or if those reviewers were just perverts, but this book is not really a love story, and is not even CLOSE to being beautiful. It's a dark, disturbing, and disgusting account of a mentally ill pedophile who becomes obsessed with a 12 year old girl and keeps her captive so he can molest and rape her. Anyone who thinks that that is love is seriously disturbed!

On the other hand, I absolutely LOVED the book. The dark humor, the cultural jabs, and the language were amazing! I found myself creeped out but laughing at the same time in many parts of the book. And honestly, I don't know how people could have found it boring because I couldn't stop turning the pages. The book is pure genius!

But if you're a more traditional reader who is hoping for a book with a good character vs bad character theme, or love story, or a plot with any type of moral... then you should skip this book. There are no 'good' characters in this book and there are no lessons learned. Also, if you aren't a literary type or not good with foreign languages you'll have to flip to the back of the book quite often to grasp alot of the story. I agree it would be better to read through it first, then go back to the annotations the second time around.

5-0 out of 5 stars Reader ability is important
From reading some of the other reviews of this book, it is clear that many readers still make the assumption that the author necessarily condones the actions of the characters.

In the best art, the artist neither condones nor criticizes the actions; the work is not a didactic piece meant to coddle the readers, leaving them to make that determination for themselves.

For readers who lack the moral compass or judgment ability to make these decisions for themselves, the first reaction is to project the faults and failures of the characters onto the writer, labeling him or her the things that should, in fact, be said about the character.It is an immature and lazy way to read a book.

Excellent art is a mirror--it allows us to peer into it and in return, see ourselves, whether that is the self or humanity as a whole, see it for all its faults and splendors.

For readers who are looking for moral guidance, for criticism and not description, you are looking in the wrong book. ... Read more

17. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (New Directions Paperbook)
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 224 Pages (2008-07-17)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$7.41
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0811217507
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Nabokov's first novel in English, one of his greatest and most overlooked, with a new Introductionby Michael Dirda.

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight,Nabokov's first novel in English, was completed in Paris in 1938, first published by NewDirections in 1941, reissued in 1959 to widecritical acclaim and now relaunched again, withan appreciative introduction by Pulitzer-Prizewinning critic Michael Dirda.

This, the narrator tells us, is the reallife of famous author Sebastian Knight, theinside story. After Knight's death, hishalf-brother sets out to penetrate the mysteryof the famous English novelist's life, but heis impeded by the false, the distorted, theirrelevant. Yet the search proves to be a storyquite as intriguing as any of SebastianKnight's own books, as baffling, and, in theend, as uniquely rewarding. On one level, thisliterary detective story has pungent points tomake about the role of the artist in a societybasically hostile to the creative spirit. Onanother, The Real Life of SebastianKnight probes the essential problem of theambiguity of human identity: Just who wasSebastian Knight?

Amazon.com Review
"I am very happy that you liked that little book," wrote Vladimir Nabokovto Edmund Wilson in 1941. "As I think I told you, I wrote it five yearsago, in Paris, on the implement called bidet as a writingdesk--because we lived in one room and I had to use our small bathroom as astudy." The book in question was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.And despite its humble origins, Nabokov's first novel in English showed himto be in absolute command of his adopted language.

Like many of the author's later triumphs, this one revolves around aquestion of identity. The late Sebastian Knight, we discover, was atransplanted Russian novelist whose taste for linguistic trickery bears acertain resemblance to Nabokov's. Now his half-brother is attempting toreconstruct the existence of this elusive figure. As he readily admits, theraw material isn't exactly the stuff of melodrama: "Sebastian's life,though far from being dull, lacked the terrific vigour of his literarystyle." But even the most mundane facts prove difficult for the narrator tonail down. He does, on the other hand, describe Sebastian's creativeprocesses in exquisite and accurate detail:

His struggle with words was usually painful and this for two reasons. Onewas the common one with writers of his type: the bridging of the abysslying between expression and thought; the maddening feeling that the rightwords, the only words are awaiting you on the opposite bank in the mistydistance, and the shudderings of the still unclothed thought clamouring forthem on this side of the abyss.
Sebastian's real life--or anybody's, for that matter--refuses to yield up averbal equivalent. Still, the narrator manages a kind of fraternal fusionwith his subject on the book's final page, which suggests a fluid and veryNabokovian view of identity itself. For this reason, and for the splendorsof its prose, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is a necessary read.It's also safe to say that it's the very best novel ever written on abidet. --James Marcus ... Read more

Customer Reviews (14)

5-0 out of 5 stars A narrative within a narrative within a narrative
According to the Introduction by Conrad Brenner this was written in 1938 in Paris.It was Nabokov's first book composed in English, although I understand he had translated "Despair" into English from his Russian in 1935.What stands out to me is the contrast between the English English of "Sebastian Knight" and the American English that he employed so marvelously in "Lolita."Only a master of language--which Nabokov is without doubt--could have written both novels.Yet, while the differences in idiom, spelling and expression are true and distinct, the intricate, precise composition of plot and the deliberate game-playing with the reader, which are hallmarks of Nabokov's unique style, are very much the same in both novels.

What isn't the same is the experience for the reader.In "Lolita" Nabokov plays upon the reader's sense of what is right and wrong to the extent that we find ourselves in sympathy with Humbert Humbert who, objectively speaking, is a pedophile, a rapist and a child abductor.In "Sebastian Knight" our sympathies are confused, at least in the beginning, although in the end it is hard not to identify with Sebastian's loving half-brother who does the first person narration.What Nabokov plays with is the reader's sense of who really is narrating the story.The authorial command of the book--the authentic voice behind the telling of the events--is it really Sebastian's nearly anonymous half-brother or is he just a shill for Sebastian himself?Or is this (on another level) a story of Vladimir Nabokov himself as this brilliant writer "Sebastian Knight" told by Nabokov in the guise of a supposed younger, adoring half-brother?

This is the trick of the novel.How Nabokov adores tricks!How he loves to fool and misguide the reader and play with the reader's sensibilities and perceptions!He does this because to Nabokov the novel is a deception, an art form like all art forms that relies on a representation of truth controlled by the artist.What is the truth of Sebastian's life?What is the truth about Nabokov's life?Was he in some sense the tortured Sebastian whose work was misunderstood and misinterpreted by the vain and stupid Mr. Goodman?Was he in some other sense Humbert Humbert whose shameful acts could only see the light of day in a novel?

Nabokov has answered in the negative.He insists that his characters are puppets on his--the artist's--string.And of course we must not commit the biographical fallacy--or so I was taught many years ago in undergraduate English classes.But no artist's life is completely removed from his work.And no writer of fiction can completely divorce himself from reliance on that which he knows intimately.What is marvelous about the great writers--Tolstoy, Shakespeare, et al., and Nabokov himself--is their ability to be so many characters and in those characters to display the psychological veracity that makes the characters seem truer than true.

It is interesting to know that Nabokov, after the success of "Lolita," went back and translated into English the novels he wrote in Russian under the pen name V. Sirin.It is also interesting to read at the end of Chapter 18 in "Sebastian Knight" these words: "And sometimes I tell myself that it would not be inordinately hard to translate ...[Sebastian's novel 'The Doubtful Asphodel'] into Russian."Here again the narrator is at odds with himself as to his English language abilities.Before he was poor in English; now he could be a translator from English into Russian.

This raises the further question, mentioned below, as to what extent we can trust the younger brother--perhaps with younger brother aspirations--on other matters.We might ask ourselves, is the narrator being fair to M. Goodman?To what extent is he objective about Sebastian?We can even ask are Sebastian's strangely named novels really all that good?The prose selected as quotes from those novels is striking yes, but so is the prose of our (unreliable?) narrator, who although he claims no expertise in the English language, gives the lie to that bit of modesty by writing (as far as this reader can tell) as well as his older half-brother.The sense we have about the authorial voice is further confused by how much both brothers sound alike.Normally this would be a fault, but because Nabokov's intent is to fuse the three authors--himself, Sebastian and the first person narrator--into one in such a way as to suggest to the reader that artifice and reality are not so easily distinguished.

What I also like about this novel is the sense of Europe between the two great wars that Nabokov achieves.There are no dark clouds hanging over Europe, and there is almost no mention of the senseless war that ended some twenty years before.Nabokov and his characters care not the slightest for politics or international intrigues.There is a clear, deliberate effort at showing life entirely without war or the threat or aftermath of war.Only once does Nabokov acknowledge that there is a political world beyond the day-to-day concerns of his characters.Near the end of the book as his hero is rushing madly to get to Sebastian before he dies, he asks in passing, "Who were those idle idiots who wrote on the wall, 'Death to the Jews'?..."

Few writers can use coincidence to surprise and delight the reader the way Nabokov can.One recalls Charlotte Haze conveniently killing herself off at exactly the right time by running out in front of an automobile.In Sebastian Knight we have the narrator conveniently meet on a train a man, who for unknown reasons comes to the narrator's aid and helps him find the identity of a mysterious woman that Sebastian loved and lost.

Finally I have to say that for many readers this novel will develop too slowly and too obscurely to be readily appreciated.But stay with it.It builds to a kind of intriguing lucidity and even develops into a dramatic narrative toward the end.

5-0 out of 5 stars Sebastian Knight was pretty bright
A book like this is so full of gems that for all intents and purposes it is without flaw.Understanding Sebastian Knight pretty much means understanding how literary genius works. The book is loaded with humour that will be above the head of most err stupid people. I saw Nabokov sitting and smiling at me at times as I read. The world is full of Dr. Goodmann's - that is for sure. Best to take a long time and read this book slowly, out loud of course, doesn't that go without saying?

5-0 out of 5 stars Without much conviction, I'm giving ...
... this novel, Nabokov's first published book written in English, the same five stars that I've given every other novel of his that I've reviewed, even though I didn't enjoy it as much as any of the others. I'm assuming that, in another setting or another season, I might have relished its artifice. All the earmarks of Nabokov's verbal virtuosity are there -- the puns, the word games, the slithering tangles of syntax, the lapidary images, the delicious snobbery, the coyly contrived misapprehensions-- but in this book, somehow, his pretences seem uncomfortably pretentious and his precious jewels of language get to be annoyingly 'precieux'.

"The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" is the first-person account of a Russian emigré's attempt to write the biography of his older half-brother, Sebastian, a novelist who may or may not have been acclaimed as a literary genius before his untimely death of heart failure. We have, it's important to note, only the narrator's word for the dead author's brilliance; the frequent quotes from Sebastian Knight's writings are curiously ungainly and at times quite foolish-sounding. After a lengthy description of Sebastian's childhood and education -- an oddly incomplete and disjointed account because, as "V" confesses, he didn't share much with his brother or maintain intimate contact with him after emigration from Russia -- the biographer focuses his compulsion and our attention on a mystery, the identity of a Russian woman whom Sebastian met at a health spa, for whom he abandoned his wife. The fact is that V had no idea of the woman's existence until he was charged, in his brother's will, with the destruction of her letters, and not until the flames are already consuming those letters does V realize that he needs to 'know' the mystery lover in order to penetrate into his brother's inner life.

Frankly, to my reading taste, Nabokov takes far too long preparing the mystery. Fully the first half of the novel seems merely an exercise in indirection, and I found myself tempted to toss it aside. Was the already great Russian writer struggling to find his 'voice' in English? If so, he found it only halfway through the book. The second half, the unraveling of the Russian lover's identity and the narrator's attempt to subsume his own identity in his brother's 'soul', makes a compellingly kinky story.

4-0 out of 5 stars Nabokov adopts English
This is not, as some reviewers suggest, Nabokov's first published English work - he had translated Despair from the Russian in 1935 and had re-written Laughter in the Dark in English in 1938 (incidentally, this edition became his first American publication) - but Sebastian Knight does mark the author's first work that was conceived, written and published in English.Although Nabokov's decision to adopt English as his literary languge had more to do with financial considerations than for psychological or existential reasons, he must have considered the decision profound enough to make it a priciple theme of the novel.His protagonist, the Russian born Sebastian Knight, not only writes in English, but has taken his English mother's maiden name and turns his back on his native country and language - only to make a desperate effort, at the end of his life, to regain some of his Russian identity.

There are many parallels between Nabokov, the author, and Sebastian Knight: both were raised in St. Petersburg, both spoke English as a child, both were educated at Cambridge and both made the decision to write in English (although Nabokov published nine novels and many short stories in Russian before the switch), but to call the novel autobiographical would be a stretch.It is, however, a biography.Sebastian's half-brother, V, disgusted with the only other biography of his brother, written by a hack who is more interested in social generalizations than in his subject's art, and who attributes Sebastian's death to "the inability of a sensitive soul to withstand the anguish of the epoch", decides to write his own account.Although the half-brother is a businessman and has had no previous literary experience, he is able to write an excellent biography because he is concerned with Sebastian's thought processes and his art.How V accumulates the details associated with his brother's life is the focus of the novel and is, as the publisher notes, a "literary detective story."

As with any detective story, the sleuth often tries to assume the identity of the investigated (at least pyschologically) in order to solve the case, and often there is a blurring of identities as one personality morphs into another.As with detectives, so it is with writers.Brother V, immersing himself into the life and art of his brother, Sebastian, begins to think as his brother and his writing acquires an art of its own.And the morphing does not stop here.The plots of two of Sebastian's novels should be familiar to readers of Nabokov's Russian fiction.The Eye and The Gift are both discernible in the works of Sebastian and just as Sebastian and V become indelibly entwined, so does Vladimir Nabokov, as both creator and colleague of the two characters.

4-0 out of 5 stars Literate Playfulness
V, the narrator of THE REAL LIFE OF SEBASTIAN KNIGHT, has spent little time with his older half-brother, the accomplished but obscure novelist Sebastian Knight. But shortly after Sebastian's too-early death, a biography, "The Tragedy of Sebastian Knight", appears that V considers a "slapdash and very misleading book." In response, the strangely loving V commences to research his own book about Sebastian, THE REAL LIFE OF SEBASTIAN KNIGHT. Problem is: V doesn't know Sebastian well. There are a few memories of childhood and the occasional interactions of the distant brothers. Otherwise, V has to rely on Sebastian's five novels, and some gumshoe work, to "bring up his life bit by bit... soldering the fragments with my inner knowledge of his character."

Basically, Nabokov splits this quest, V's effort to capture his brother's real life, into two narrative elements. The first element, insightful commentary on Sebastian's five novels, is probably a bit of a stretch for many fans of The Nab. Here, V highlights passages from Sebastian's novels and then surrounds them with amazing interpretation, which V says illuminates Sebastian's talent, values, and character. This is certainly an opportunity for Nabokov to offer brilliant fragments. And, this reads like a dazzling spoof of literary criticism and connoisseurship. (Are you reading this, James Wood?) Still, there are moments when V, darting from fragment to fragment in his outpourings of enthusiasm, is hard to follow. Sad to say: but for this reader, this element of the quest is overly literary and I didn't quite get the jokes. Even so, Wikipedia says Edmund Wilson enjoyed this playfulness immensely.

On the other hand, V's investigation of Sebastian's personal life is touching and magical. Here, V's learns that Sebastian, despite his rich literary sensibility, lived a lonely and unglamorous life. But in this narrative component, V's social interactions, especially with Mr. Silbermann, are fun and wonderful and sorta like magical realism. The Nab put this in for non-professors like me.

As usual with Nabokov, the writing is absolutely great. Here is one of numerous examples, with V describing the burning of Sebastian's letters, which occurs in Chapter 4. "But as I was burning them in the grate one sheet of the blue became loose, curving backwards under the torturing flame, and before the crumpling blackness had crept over it, a few words appeared in full radiance, then swooned and all was over."

Recommended (but not easy).
... Read more

18. The Original of Laura
by Vladimir Nabokov
Hardcover: 304 Pages (2009-11-17)
list price: US$35.00 -- used & new: US$16.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0307271897
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
When Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions for his heirs to burn the 138 handwritten index cards that made up the rough draft of his final and unfinished novel, The Original of Laura. But Nabokov’s wife, Vera, could not bear to destroy her husband’s last work, and when she died, the fate of the manuscript fell to her son. Dmitri Nabokov, now seventy-five—the Russian novelist’s only surviving heir, and translator of many of his books—has wrestled for three decades with the decision of whether to honor his father’s wish or preserve for posterity the last piece of writing of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. His decision finally to allow publication of the fragmented narrative—dark yet playful, preoccupied with mortality—affords us one last experience of Nabokov’s magnificent creativity, the quintessence of his unparalleled body of work.

Photos of the handwritten index cards accompany the text. They are perforated and can be removed and rearranged, as the author likely did when he was writing the novel.

From the Hardcover edition.Amazon.com Review
Book Description
When Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions for his heirs to burn the 138 handwritten index cards that made up the rough draft of his final and unfinished novel, The Original of Laura. But Nabokov’s wife, Vera, could not bear to destroy her husband’s last work, and when she died, the fate of the manuscript fell to her son. Dmitri Nabokov, now seventy-five--the Russian novelist’s only surviving heir, and translator of many of his books--has wrestled for three decades with the decision of whether to honor his father’s wish or preserve for posterity the last piece of writing of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. His decision finally to allow publication of the fragmented narrative--dark yet playful, preoccupied with mortality--affords us one last experience of Nabokov’s magnificent creativity, the quintessence of his unparalleled body of work.

Photos of the handwritten index cards accompany the text. They are perforated and can be removed and rearranged, as the author likely did when he was writing the novel.

Look Inside The Original of Laura
(Click on Images to enlarge)

The Original of Laura (Inside Spread)The Original of Laura (Open)

... Read more

Customer Reviews (21)

1-0 out of 5 stars Re-read Lolita instead
We miss his voice and are easy prey for the promise of a new encounter. After reading the entire ouvre, several of them repeatedly, and every critical and biographical work, I couldn't resist this volume. It took less than 30 minutes to read, and it was a mediocre, rudimentary sketch of a novel idea, nothing more. Someone's cashing in on our love and respect for a great mind, and ignoring his justified wishes.

4-0 out of 5 stars It coulda been a contender
Vladmir Nabokov's manuscript "The Original of Laura", published some years after his death, is more a bunch of notes than a full realized novel. For Nabokov's die hard fans - for whom this book seems to be aimed - this could be a joy. To see the master's own handwriting, his ideas for a novel being build up etc etc, this can be priceless. But for those who are only interested in a novel, it is advisable to read the books that he actually wrote instead of a book that we planned to write.

In "The Original of Laura" there are some interesting ideas that could have been developed into an amazing novel - maybe Nabokov's masterpiece in an ouvre that already included masterpieces as "Lolita" and "Ada or Ardor". But life denied him the right of writing this novel, so readers must find pleasure in loose sentences and topical ideas.

It is not that it is a bad book - of course not, but it is a blueprint of a novel. Who could live inside the blueprints of a house? Maybe the same person who would be satisfied by reading the plans of a novel.

4-0 out of 5 stars Reviews and Conflicts
Nabokov's unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, has received mixed reviews concerning the following: the ethics of releasing a book whose author specifically ordered it to be destroyed after his death, the literary difficulty of compiling an assortment of transcribed note cards in the guise of a novel, and the scholarly qualms against marring the name of the author of such monumental works as Lolita and Pale Fire.It seems that the only aspect not under critical review is the novel's unexploited potential had Nabokov lived to complete it.
The story's characters: Philip Wild, his wife, Flora, her mother's lover (Hubert H. Hubert), Flora's social acquaintances/lovers--are all more or less sketchy illustrations that the reader must assume would be fully drawn in the finished work.Reviews differ in bestowing the focus of the novel on Philip, Flora, or an anonymous third person (a former lover of Flora's?) whom most agree is the first person "I" found in various sequences of Nabokov's note cards.
Another discrepancy among reviewers is the answer to who the writer of Laura actually is.Are the "auto-dissolution" scenes fragments of Laura (the novel within the novel) or the actual life experiences of Philip Wild?If not, then which, if any, of the book's texts are portions of Laura?Flora is well-known as the "original" or model of the character in Laura; it is also stated that "Philip read Laura" which makes it unlikely that he was the author.The confusion really sets in when readers attempt to disentangle the depiction of their marital life--and ask which parts are the novel (i.e. Nabokov's work) and which are Laura, the novel within the novel?
Flora is aligned with objects of feminine beauty (fans, a slender, youthful body, black velvet slippers, fur coat), but also with traditionally masculine objects such as a puppy (versus Philip who is introduced walking a cat on a leash), money, and a taste for travel.Moreover, she is depicted as a financial and emotional burden on her husband, which begs the question of why an esteemed professor of experimental psychology would keep such a detrimental relationship open in his life?But, how much of the story is the "real" facts of their lives and how much is the "fiction" of Laura?(The reader can only suppose that the changing names of Flora/Laura were meant to serve as markers of a transition of narration.)
Much of the attention of reviewers (not unrightly so) has been given to pondering the obvious link between Lolita's Humbert Humbert and the sleazy Hubert Hubert of this last work.However, the inclusion of (Wild's?) experimentation of auto-dissolution, the novel within a novel concept, and Flora's rejection of her original sexual pursuer, would suggest that Nabokov was not writing a remix of Lolita, but a novel that would perhaps in some ways go beyond the reach of Lolita in exploring the mature sexual appetite of a woman (married unhappily, granddaughter of an artist, daughter of a dancer) and the repercussions on the innocent male's side.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Genius that is Nabokov
After reading several books by Mr. Nabokov, I was very excited to receive and read this book. As with his other novels, the wording and phrasing of the story is beautiful, though the content itself is extremely demented; The book never finishes, though within the pages that have been completed, we find two major characters- Flora Wild; a flirty, flighty young girl who only married her husband because of his large amounts of money and cheats on him almost constantly, and Phillip Wild: An awkward, grotesque and overweight old doctor who wants to be recognized by his fellow peers. There are two main conflicts; the first one is rather strange. Dr. Wild decides that he wants to kill himself, and does so through imagination; thus, he can reverse the effects whenever he wishes. He feels extreme ecstacy every time he destroys a part of himself, and is obviously an unfortunate masochist. The second conflict is a bit less disturbing; Dr. Wild agreed to marry Flora only because she reminded him of a past lover-thus, the two have nearly no feelings toward each other and their relationship is not at all satisfying. We find out that a book has been written by one of Flora`s admirers, which makes Dr. Wild very angry. However, we don`t ever get to see how their relationship is affected by this, or if Dr. Wild ever succeeds in killing himself, because the novel comes to an ubrupt halt, as it is not completed-I nearly cried when it ended. The bad part is that I`ll always yearn to know the ending, though there will never be one. Although, since it was at my own discretion that I started reading the novel, I can`t complain. The design of the book itself is stunning; I love how realistic the notecards look--you can even punch them out if you so desire! It`s very ingenious and I love it. This book deserves nothing less than five stars-it`s magnificent!

4-0 out of 5 stars More Here Than You Think
I am torn. Ironic choice of words since you can literally and figuratively tear this book apart: literally, the authors' (Vladimir & Victor) perforated index note cards can be detached from the book itself; figuratively, because reviews of this unique "novel" will likely not be kind. But there's more here than meets the eye. I hate this novel. It's the worse mess since "The Sound and the Fury" (which as a novel signified nothing). "Laura" was not meant to be marketed, yet; "Fury" wasn't either. But "Laura" is more than nothing--it's a most fascinating teaching tool. The reader gets to re-arrange the ideas/note cards and, as you should, fill in blanks, add your own note cards--create your own novel! Then re-shuffle the deck and do it again. The significance is that you get to ghost-write with one of the most perfect assemblers of words ever born. This is an amazing opportunity. Maybe I'll start a contest to see who can create the best novella using the "Laura" note cards. Truly, what if someone gave you the first draft of the movie script for "Casablanca"--which likely had little to do with Letters of Transit and more to do with a fat, useless exporter of applesauce--and you had the assignment of cleaning it up and making it yours. "Laura" is a keepsake, not as a good read (it's not that, in fact it's incomprehensible), but as a thrilling writer/teacher's tool. Have fun with it. ... Read more

19. The Gift
by Vladimir Nabokov
Paperback: 384 Pages (1991-05-07)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$9.42
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679727256
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
The Gift is the last of the novels Nabokov wrote in his native Russian and the crowning achievement of that period in his literary career.  It is also his ode to Russian literature, evoking the works of Pushkin, Gogol, and others in the course of its narrative:  the story of Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev, an impoverished émigré poet living in Berlin, who dreams of the book he will someday write--a book very much like The Gift itself.Amazon.com Review
For most of his life, Vladimir Nabokov was quite literally a man without acountry. It's a small irony, then, that his career falls so neatly intonational phases: Russian, German, French, and American, plus the protractedcoda he spend in a Swiss luxury hotel during his final decade. TheGift, which he wrote between 1935 and 1937 in Berlin, is the grandsummation of his second phase. It describes, for starters, the sentimentaleducation of a young Russian writer, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev. Thishyphenated creation has more than a few things in common with the author,despite Nabokov's vehement denial in the novel's foreword. Still, only anitwit would read The Gift for its autobiographical revelations.What this early masterpiece does offer is a wealth of lyrical,witty, heartbreaking prose, beautifully translated from the Russian by MichaelScammell (with an assist from Nabokov himself). Who else would note theway a street rises "at a barely perceptible angle, beginning with a postoffice and ending with a church, like an epistolary novel"? Who else hasever administered the satirical shiv to his characters with such deadly,almost affectionate aplomb?

Shirin himself was a thickset man with a reddish crew cut, always badlyshaved and wearing large spectacles behind which, as in two aquariums, swamtwo tiny, transparent eyes--which were completely impervious to visualimpressions. He was blind like Milton, deaf like Beethoven, and a blockheadto boot.
Of course, only a fraction of The Gift is taken up with this sort ofdemolition derby. Fyodor's romance with Zina, for example, occasions themost ardent prose of Nabokov's career: "And not only was Zina cleverly andelegantly made to measure for him by a very painstaking fate, but both ofthem, forming a single shadow, were made to the measure of something notquite comprehensible, but wonderful and benevolent and continuouslysurrounding them." (Shades of Volodya and Véra? Only the deceased husbandand wife, and perhaps StacySchiff, know for sure.)

At the same time, The Gift is a brilliant, mesmerizing riff on thehistory of Russian literature, with elaborate bouquets tossed to Pushkinand Gogol.There's also a hilarious yet somehow tender evisceration of the do-goodingpolemicistNikolaiChernyshevski--which was suppressed, in fact, when the novel wasoriginally serialized by a Russian émigré magazine. As should be clear bynow, The Gift defies any attempt at quick-and-dirty summary. But thebook plays the most pleasurable kind of havoc with our stuffy notions ofnarrative structure and linguistic protocol. And as Nabokov repeatedlywraps the reader's consciousness around his little finger, he never holdsback on that ultimate literary gift: pleasure. --James Marcus ... Read more

Customer Reviews (21)

5-0 out of 5 stars And then a miracle occurred
There an old cartoon that shows two scientists at a chalkboard filled with equations and in the middle is written "and then a miracle occurred," whereupon the other one says "I think this section in the middle needs work."I thought of this cartoon when reading The Gift because Fyodor/ Nabokov (this really is the most autobiographical of his novels) was incredibly alone in Berlin in the mid-1920s and then he meets Zina/ Vera and the miracle occurs.Not only is he no longer alone, but he has found someone who understands and accepts him absolutely and without reservation.The novel is a love letter to Zina/ Vera, among many other things.

The other reviews have objected to the inclusion of the Chernyshevsky biography.I would recommend reading up a bit on Chernyshevsky before starting the book.Even the Wikipedia entry should be enough.The point of the Chernyshevsky section is to contrast the lack of knowledge of the materialists (including Lenin, who was deeply influenced by Chernyshevsky, and the Bolsheviks) with the gentry tradition of Fyodor's father, who was a great naturalist.While Chernyshevsky said he was interested in the material world, he actually knew nothing about it and only managed to destroy and befoul what was around him.This indictment of Chernyshevsky is of course also an indictment of the Bolsheviks, which is noted in the novel, as the "work" was published by an anti-Soviet publisher.The part on Chernyshevsky says that he knew nothing of actual things and could only write about the relationship between things.This is quite insightful, actually.Once you understand this part, you can see why even such small things as Fyodor's naming of all the butterflies and other objects in the Grunewald forest is an important part of the novel.This section is actually funny if you've read a bit of Soviet writing on Chernyshevsky or even on Lenin, as Nabokov skewers it mercilessly.

In addition, this is a love story and the parts between Fyodor and Zina are really wonderful.This also contrasts to the total disarray of Chernyshevsky's relationships with women yet parallels the relationship between Fyodor's parents.The book is thus an argument for the demands and rewards of high culture and it makes no concessions to popular culture or demands for accessibility. If you have any interest at all in Nabokov, Russian literature, Russian emigres or Berlin, you really should read this book.

4-0 out of 5 stars Some beautiful writing and some unnecessary inclusions
The Gift is one of Nabokov's last novels originally written in Russian.As such, you might suspect it's Nabokov at the height of his powers.True, there is a lot of beautifully poetic images and twists of language - the narrator (it actually alternates between third and first person) is a poet - but sometimes I wanted plain language that didn't have me reaching for the dictionary several times a page.That being said, I liked the winding structure of the book, similar to Faulkner in how it demands to be reread to be fully understood.

Here's what I didn't care for:the inclusion of nearly 100 pages (about 30% of the book) of a book-within-the-book, a critical biography of Nikolay Chernyshevsky, who you probably haven't heard of unless you're a student of Russian history.This section is as well written as the rest of the book, but it doesn't advance the narrative in the least, and I must side with the Russian journal that originally published "The Gift" in installments but refused to include this section.The fact that the book is easily understood without it shows how unnecessary it is.It probably would have been better and a tighter book if Nabokov had only included brief excerpts from this other book.

All in all, some great writing in this English edition (that Nabokov himself revised and really polished up to an ornamentally stacked book on par with Lolita).But in terms of story, the blade could have been sharper with the cut I mention above.There are plenty of other great works by Nabokov to read before you try this.

For Nabokov's best Russian novels, I recommend "Despair" and "Invitation to a Beheading".For his best English novels, try "Lolita" and "Pale Fire."

2-0 out of 5 stars Might be good if you're a Russian Lit. scholar.
Thus far I've read all but maybe 2 or 3 of Nabokov's novels.This is the first one that I've quit reading.
The first half is OK.There's actually a story.Then, suddenly, without warning, you're thrust into (I'm guessing) the main character's work about some Russian writer, who may or may not be an actual writer for all I know.From about the half-way mark, to where I quit (about page 240 out of 300+), it's all literary/poetry criticism, references to countless Russian authors, various philosophers, etc.It's like a boring dream where you drag on and on from boring meaningless sequence to boring meaningless sequence, always wondering if it's the narrative of the main character's book, or Nabakov. This was just too much.
It might be fine if you're a Russian literary historian, but for regular folks, I just can't recommend this one. I gave it 2 stars because it's Nabokov, but only for those precious few good sequences in the first half of the book.

5-0 out of 5 stars Prose, Fiction At Its Best
"Among the best prose stylists of our century..." goes the complement to Nabokov's fiction. You know what, he is still among the best prose stylists in this century, the 21st. A must read. Yea that sounds hackyneed by now. Too bad it has been wasted on less writers. Read this book. Don't buy into snobby readers advice, even Nabokov's own advice, so when you find yourself wanting to skip a few parts in the beginning do it... You'll come back to the very first sentence and reread ("all readers should be re-readers..." up until the point that made you say wow.

5-0 out of 5 stars A beautiful gift.
Nabokov, in his foreword, states that The Gift "is the last novel I wrote, or ever shall write, in Russian.Whether the author knew this as a certainty when he was writing this novel or if the conscious decision to eschew his native language for future literary endeavors came later, he, nevertheless, produced what would be his most "Russian" work.The beginning of the novel is a tip of the hat to Gogol's Dead Souls while the last paragraph is his homage to Pushkin's Eugene Onegin; and throughout the book there are references to Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky (deridingly) and the literary favorite of Lenin, Nikolay Chernyshevski.Now, before the prospective reader throws up their hands and bemoans a lack of background in Russian literature for an excuse not to read this book, be assured.This is one of Nabokov's most uplifting novels and is essentially a love story; that it contains some of the author's best prose (in either Russian or English) only adds to the reading pleasure.And although there are obvious influences from Proust and Joyce (the circular format of the Chernyshevski chapter, for example), this is not, as Amazon reviewer David K. O'Hara remarked, "bloody Finnegan's Wake."

The Gift is the story of Fyodor Gudunov-Cherdyntsev, an emigre writer living in Berlin, and represents Nabokov's contribution to the "portrait of the artist" literary genre.In most of the works in this category much is said regarding the artist's angst, inspiration and triumphs but very little of the artist's actual writings are given for the reader's consideration.Not so with this book - the reader has the actual texts of the works at hand.Thus, we are able to read Fyodor's first published book of poetry (as well as the imagined critical responses) concerning his memories of life in Russia before the Revolution; an unpublished biography of his father, a famous naturalist, and his adventures in Asia as he undertakes expeditions to describe the fauna and flora of exotic lands, seemingly oblivious of the political upheaval taking place back home in Russia -- this section of the novel contains some of Nabokov's most beautiful writing.Finally, in an attempt to deal with what he sees as the mediocrity of Soviet letters and the stagnation of the emigre literary scene, Fyodor sets out to write a biography of the great pragmatist, confused socialist, and almost unreadable author, Nikolay Chernyshevski.That Chernyshevski was a particular favorite of Lenin and exerted enough influence that he was regarded as one of the "intellectual" catalysts for Lenin's activism and the subsequent Bolshevik revolution (and the reason, in the end, for Fyodor's emigre status) only made him grist for Fyodor's sardonic talents.

Although Nabokov enjoys getting into the head of his emigre protagonist, he is too shrewd a writer to simply give his readers a word by word transcription of Fyodor's literary efforts.Woven through the novel and connecting the literary efforts of Fyodor is the story of his love affair with Zina Mertz, a fellow emigre with whom he strikes up a clandestine relationship.She makes her appearance halfway through the novel (Fyodor hears her flush the toilet in the rooming house they share), but the careful reader will discover that she has been on the periphery of Fyodor's world from the first chapter.Several times they are almost brought together but some twist of fate keeps them in their separate orbits.It is only as Fyodor grows as an artist that he is ready for a relationship with Zina and the sharing of his emotions and intellect with her.It is through his love for Zina that Fyodor has the determination to re-examine his previous attempt at his biography of his father and, in so doing, sees the great book that was waiting for him to write: a book documenting his literary achievements and his love for Zina, a book which would be a gift in appreciation of all that life had granted him -- this very book that the reader holds in his hands.

Nabokov almost always discourages any attempts to see himself in the roles of the characters he invents, to "identify the designer with the design."But while Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev might not be a manifestation of Nabokov, there is a similarity in the idea of this novel as a gift.Just a Fyodor offered his gift to Zina for the happiness she brought into his life, so did Nabokov dedicate The Gift to his wife, Vera, as a means of thankfulness that their marriage had survived a rocky period.
... Read more

20. Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry Selected and Translated by
by Vladimir Nabokov
Hardcover: 480 Pages (2008-11-11)
list price: US$40.00 -- used & new: US$3.53
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0151012644
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
Vladimir Nabokov was hailed by Salman Rushdie as the most important writer ever to cross the boundary between one language and another. A Russian émigré who began writing in English after his forties, Nabokov was a trilingual author, equally competent in Russian, English, and French. A gifted and tireless translator, he bridged the gap between languages nimbly and joyously.

Here, collected for the first time in one volume as Nabokov always wished, are many of his English translations of Russian verse, presented next to the Russian originals. Here, also, are some of his notes on the dangers and thrills of translation. With an introduction by Brian Boyd, author of the prize-winning biography of Nabokov, Verses and Versions is a momentous and authoritative contribution to Nabokov's published works. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars Language and Poetry Both
Some may come into this book with the thought that they are going to be getting some great English translations of little known or unknown Russian poets, and yes, there is that.But the title of this book is Verses and Versions.So, the Version aspect of this book--which is the complex process of translation itself and the results thereof--takes center stage as well.From both standpoints, this is a delightful read.

It begins with an essay by Nabokov on the art of translation and it is, in typical Nabokovian fashion, both amusing and informative.It turns out that not all translators are created equal, and many are completely awful.A translator might be lazy, or incompetent, but worst of all, he may have his own agenda.Nabokov points out that there are some translations of Russian works into English that have been altered, or "improved upon," or even censored, in some cases to protect the reader's delicate sensibility, you see, as defined by the translator. And the editor, perhaps not nearly as scholarly as the translator himself, has not the power to oversee this.

Nabokov, expectedly, is contemptuous of this.He cites an interesting example.A line from Hamlet, having to do with Ophelia, reads:"There with fantastic garlands did she come, of cornflower, nettles, daises, and long purples."The Russian translator apparently decided that he could improve upon this.Translated back into English, it reads:"There with most lovely garlands did she come, of violets, carnations, roses, lilies."This utterly misses the point.Nabokov suggests, facetiously perhaps, that translators of this nature should be, "punished by the stocks, as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days."

But if there are bad translations, there are also good, or at least, interesting ones as well.A good example is in the short chapter on the work of Karamzin, a minor Russian poet who was more well-known for his Russian translations of English poems.In one case, Nabokov gives us the original English poem--Lord Ullin's Daughter, by somebody named Campbell--a sing-songy, hackneyed bit of melodrama;then gives us the Russian translation in Russian;then gives us his own re-translation back into English.Fascinatingly, the re-translation becomes a powerful, moving piece.

The book is organized into about twenty chapters, each of which has to do with a specific Russian poet, and there are literally dozens of splendid poems in here.One can barely turn the page without being struck by something powerful, or beautiful, or whimsical, or thought-provoking--or all four simultaneously.

"To His Wife," by Baratinski, was quite moving.It begins,

"I have given her a nickname,
Just a fanciful caress,
The unconscious inspiration,
Of my childish tenderness. . . "

How true this is, for those of us lucky enough to be in a loving marriage. And it ends on a lovely, hopeful note as well.

Pushkin is perhaps the one Russian poet English readers are familiar with, and his chapter is by far the longest here.Again, loads of good stuff.A great one is entitled, "The Demon," and it has to do with how man can allow his soul to be corroded by disappointment and failure.Here are the last several lines:

"With inexhaustible detraction
he tempted Providence;
he called the beautiful a dream,
held inspiration in contempt,
did not believe in love, in freedom,
looked mockingly on life,
and nothing in all nature
did he desire to bless."

There are people in the world like this.Sometimes, they hold very influential positions in society.

An untitled poem by Nekrasov has to do with the horror of war, and the one person over all who it affects the most:

"Amid our hypocritical affairs
and all kinds of matters, platitudinous and prosaic,
the only sacred and sincere tears I have observed
are the tears of unfortunate mothers.
For them to forget their children slain in battle
is as impossible as for a weeping willow
to lift its drooping branches."

There is so much more.If poetry is something that you are at all interested in, this book would make a fine addition to your collection.

4-0 out of 5 stars Between Fromish and Toish
Another posthumous publication of Nabokov texts, like The Original of Laura? Not quite. More a recycling of previously published material, re-arranged and combined with `new' texts, ie previously unpublished translations.
The main sources and core for this book are Nab's book Three Russian Poets on and with texts by Pushkin, Tyutchev and Lermontov, and his monumental commentary on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin.

Another skimming of the market for Nabokov collectables? Yes and no.
Yes, as we have to some extent the same avaricious system of empty pages or half printed pages as with the Original of Laura, ie the actual book is much shorter than the one that you buy. 20% empty space.
This is aggravated by the fact that the left pages in all actual poetry parts (as differentiated from the introductions and essays) are the Russian originals. I am sure many people appreciate this service. On me it is wasted. I always wanted to learn Russian when I turn 60. Well, one can't reach all one's targets.

No, as the book is `genuine': it had been a project of Vera's since some time, to publish her husband's Russian poetry translations, collected. She didn't manage to do it, the project was left to biographer Brian Boyd and son Dimitri.

We have here an anthology of Russian poetry in Nab's translation. Or at least it comes close to an anthology by scraping together a few poets and their poems and Nab's translations. I am not expert enough to judge the selection. It is obvious though that the `anthology' is heavy on Pushkin. That takes away some of the balance, however it may be explained or justified. The other two of the trio (Lermontov and Tyutchev) are also strongly represented.
Many other older poets are represented with miniature texts. Some of the great 20th century names (Blok, Mandelshtam and some others) are represented with small selections.
For me personally, Lermontov is most accessible.
I would say: for an anthology, one might have wished a broader and more balanced overview.

A charming add-on: Nab's notes for the sleeve of a record that son Dimitri recorded, with Russian songs, in the early 70s.

I am only expert enough to say that I like Nab's short essays (the portraits of the poets are mostly taken from the Onegin commentary volume, or from the TRP book), which are inserted here, and I enjoy some of the translations. I also enjoy his thoughts about translating.
As I am neutral on the originals of the poems, the average rating would be something like a 3 to 4 stars. My overall verdict: a must for Nabokovniks, a superfluous door stopper for others.

Life? A romance.
By whom? Anonymous.

5-0 out of 5 stars A great book with the Russian on the opposite page.
How I wish I knew Russian.

Thirty years in the writing, includes an interesting range of translation from the use of rhyme to producing the bare bones without rhyme.Includes drama, especially Pushkin and biographies of poets unknown before.

This was recommended by a cellist at Chamber Music Northwest.

A beautiful book with style and grace with a translator who knows both languages intimately.

5-0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
This is a book to savor. Nabokov explains the intracacies of translation that is sensitive to both languages, and cites several examples. What a fascinating mind! The poems are enchanting, heartbreaking and compelling. Pushkin in particular stays with you and calls you back for another reading. Most of all, these poems are meant to be read out loud.

5-0 out of 5 stars Indispensable
It is not enough that Vladimir Nabokov was one of the most gifted and prolific prose
stylists of the 20th century, that he was a supremely talented chess player and a
recognized expert in lepidoptery. He also was an outstanding translator of poetry
and prose, his sensual multi-linguality an endless source of admiration and envy.

This collection of Nabokov's translations of Russian poetic masterpieces into
English was a half-century in the making, pursued and put off multiple times during
the writer's lifetime. It is finally published here with editing by Brian Boyd and
Stanislav Shvabrin, with additional Nabokovian texts of criticism and, most
notably, with Nabokov's influential (and, for some, infuriating) ruminations on the
art of translation. As an introduction to the crowning heights of Russian verse, this
work is invaluable. As a testimony to Vladimir Nabokov's skill as a translator
and literary critic it is indispensable.

As reviewed in Russian Life. ... Read more

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