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Saint Petersburg 23 April 1899 - Montreux 2 July 1977 • American author, writing in Russian and English
|Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were known for their high culture and commitment to public service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken opponent of antisemitism and one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.
The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.
Having already fled
| Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. In his afterword to Lolita he claimed: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses – the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions – which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way." [p. 317] Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.
|ON NABOKOV'S BOOKSHELF|
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605 / 1615
A comic study of delusion and its consequences; Don Quixote, the old gentleman of La Mancha, takes to the road in search of adventure and remains undaunted in the face of repeated disaster.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Laurence Sterne, 1759-1767
Part novel, part digression, this gloriously disordered narrative interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate 'hero' Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters.
Nikolai Gogol, 1842
In this quintessentially Russian novel, the reader follows Chichikov, a dismissed civil servant turned con-man, through the countryside in pursuit of his shady enterprise.
Charles Dickens, 1852-1853
A savage, but often comic, indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dickens' s most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to the poorest of London slums.
Madame Bovary: Patterns of Provincial Life
Gustave Flaubert, 1857
Emma Bovary, a young country doctor' s wife, seeks escape from the boredom of her existence in love affairs and romantic yearnings, but is doomed to disillusionment.
Marcel Proust, 1913
Volume I of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. The narrator interrupts reminiscences about his childhood spent in late-nineteenth-century France to recall the hopeless love affair that a friend of the family carries on with young Odette de Crecy.
Franz Kafka, 1915
'published in Kafka's lifetime'
A man awakens up one morning to find himself transformed into an enormous insect.
James Joyce, 1922
Stylistically varied Homer-parody about the Dublin everyman Leopold Bloom, who emerges as surrogate father to Stephen Dedalus on the day his wife Molly sleeps with another man.
Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin, 1823-1831
Eugene Onegin, an aristocrat, much like Pushkin and his peers in his attitude and habits, is bored. He visits the countryside where the young and passionate Tatyana falls in love with him. In a touching letter she confesses her love but is cruelly rejected. Years later, it is Onegin's turn to be rejected by Tatyana.
|BOOKS BY VLADIMIR NABOKOV:|
The story of Humbert Humbert and his obsession with 12-year-old Dolores Haze. Determined to possess his 'Lolita' both carnally and artistically, Humbert embarks on a disastrous courtship that can only end in tragedy.
|WHAT TO READ AFTER LOLITA?|
Junichiro Tanizaki, 1925
The Westernization of a Japanese bar girl spells trouble for her rather masochistic husband.
The Happy Hunting Grounds
Nanne Tepper, 1995
Incest, madness & romance in the peat. Steeped in an unearthly and unsettling fenland landscape, relationships like that between Victor and his teen sister tend to mist up the perspectives of the 'normal'.
Emilio's Carnival, or 'Senilità'
Italo Svevo, 1898
The amorous entanglement of Emilio, a failed writer already old at thirty-five, and Angiolina, a seductively beautiful but promiscuous young woman. (Originally translated under the title A Man Grows Older.)
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Truman Capote, 1958/ 1961
Holly Golightly is generally up all night drinking cocktails and breaking hearts. She hasn't got a past. She doesn't want to belong to anything or anyone, not even to her one-eyed rag-bag pirate of a cat. One day Holly might find somewhere she belongs.
EUROPE VS. AMERICA
Franz Kafka, 1927P
Presents the story of Karl Rossman who, after an embarrassing sexual misadventure with a servant girl, is banished to America by his parents. Expected to redeem himself in the magical land of opportunity, he instead gets swept up in a whirlwind of strange escapades and dizzying adventures.
Jan van Loy, 2005
A four-part novel about Europeans with American dreams of fame, fortune, and ecstasy.
Henry James, 1878
Eugenia, an American expatriate brought up in Europe, arrives in rural New England with her charming brother Felix, hoping to find a wealthy second husband after the collapse of her marriage to a German prince.
The Loved One
Evelyn Waugh, 1927
One of Waugh's less well known works, The Loved One is a black romp through the strange world of California's funeral parlors.
David Lodge, 1975
The plate-glass, concrete jungle of Euphoria State University, USA, and the damp red-brick University of Rummidge have an annual exchange scheme. Normally the exchange passes without comment. But when Philip Swallow swaps with Professor Zapp the fates play a hand.
THE GAME OF LITERATURE
Jorges Luis Borges, 1935/ 1944 / 1949
This is a collection of Borges's fiction, translated and gathered into a single volume. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through the influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, to his final work from the 1980s, Shakespeare Memory.
Julian Barnes, 1984
A retired English doctor, in solitary widowhood, makes a pilgrimage through the life and art of Gustave Flaubert, whose work he has always venerated. As he meditates on his passion, he reveals as much about himself as he uncovers about Flaubert.
The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon, 1966
A surreal comedy satirizing Californian life. Oedipa Maas, a recent heiress, pursues enquiries into the nature of her inheritance and the motivation of her dead lover and is led on an ambiguous trail of clues.
Charlotte Mutsaers, 1994
A young girl in a world of language and associations.
|Laughter in the Dark|
A wealthy man in early twentieth-century Berlin is attracted to a lovely young girl and abandons his wife and home to begin a disastrous and unrequited love affair.
In this tale, Hermann, a German chocolate manufacturer, stumbles across a man he believes to be his double and starts plotting to turn this accidental encounter to his advantage.
|The Real Life of Sebastian Knight |
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is a perversely magical literary detective story - subtle, intricate, leading to a tantalizing climax - about the mysterious life of a famous writer.
Professor Timofey Pnin, late of Tsarist Russia, is now precariously perched on a college campus in the fast beating heart of the USA. In a series of funny and sad misunderstandings, Pnin does halting battle with American life and language.
A novel constructed around the last great poem of a fictional American poet, John Shade, and an account of his death. The poem appears in full and the narrative develops through the lengthy, and increasingly eccentric, notes by his posthumous editor.
|Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle|
1969 / 1990 (reissue edition)
Psychological novel about an incestuous relationship in a decadent family.
|The Luzhin Defence|
One of the major novels by Vladimir Nabokov, originally entitled 'The Defense'. The novel features a chess-playing genius Luzhin who discovers his gift in boyhood, rising to the rank of Grandmaster.
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