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Bend Sinister

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  3,064 Ratings  ·  206 Reviews
The first novel Nabokov wrote while living in America and the most overtly political novel he ever wrote, Bend Sinister is a modern classic.  While it is filled with veiled puns and characteristically delightful wordplay, it is, first and foremost, a haunting and compelling narrative about a civilized man caught in the tyranny of a police state. It is first and foremost a ...more
Paperback, 217 pages
Published January 1st 1981 by Time-Life Books (first published 1947)
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Jim Fonseca
Mar 28, 2017 Jim Fonseca rated it really liked it
This novel is an early work by Nabokov, published in 1947, eight years before Lolita. It was published at a time when, the Editor’s Preface tells us, Nabokov was acquiring a reputation among “discerning readers.” The title comes from heraldry meaning a leftward tilting band on a coat of arms (tilted like the backslash in an http address).

The action takes place in a vaguely East European country that has elected a dictator. Twice the author uses the analogy of a snowball rolling downhill without
Nov 29, 2008 Manny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting to compare Bend Sinister with 1984. (Nabokov didn't much like Orwell, and thought he was a hack). Orwell's take on totalitarianism, is, roughly, that it's evil. Nabokov's is more that it's terminally stupid. Even when the rulers of the State would actually prefer to get things right, they've fucked up their minds with nonsensical ideology to the point where they're no longer capable of coherent thought. I wonder whether Nabokov wasn't closer to the truth. In the end, the Soviet ...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Apr 27, 2011 Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
Beautiful, then grueling. The first half is stellar, the second half simultaneously disturbingly fascinating and immensely frustrating. Jogging the last lap of the book feels like running with a ferocious wind beating against you, largely due to the otherwise elegant prose getting a but clunky. Despite what is unarguably a beautiful stretch of text, I found myself wanting to slug it down like ice cold water at 4 am after a bender. I felt immense guilt in doing so, as I know from various quotes a ...more
Mar 21, 2014 Nostalgebraist rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, nabokov
The more Nabokov I read, the more I feel that he wrote a set of three very good novels that make sense as novels -- Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada -- and that everything outside that central trilogy consists of more unformed, less intelligible versions of the same material he used in the trilogy, awaiting a context that would make sense of it.

If you read the trilogy first, then reading more Nabokov is a very strange experience. The trilogy flaunts its unreliable narrators and appears, transparently,
May 02, 2011 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, I don't have any idea what to say here. So much beautiful writing that time and again I wanted to freeze the moment and savor against the lengthening shadows the sublime and playful wit that infuses this silky, slinky prose, the arch elegance drawn taut and set to run with the wind. The man had a gift, an effortless, supple skill with the pen that is a pleasure to behold; too pleasurable perhaps—for as another reviewer astutely points out, it is written so beautifully as to be distracting. ...more
Oct 14, 2012 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
“Nothing on earth really matters, there is nothing to fear, and death is but a question of style, a mere literary device, a musical resolution.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister


My bookshelf is growing bigger every day with new fantastic fairytales of fascism, dynamic doggerels of dystopia. Of course there is Orwell's seminal 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. There are also (move aside high-school dystopias) Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and almost all of Kafka's wel
Anthony Vacca
Aug 29, 2014 Anthony Vacca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
And here's Nabokov's stab at the dystopian novel. Not a fan of Orwell's portrayal of oppressive regimes (although this could be some eventual jealousy on Vlad's part since his book came out two years prior and was not instantly hailed a prophetic classic like 1984), Nabokov goes for broke showing these tinkertoy political powers as nothing more than bilious mixtures of pettiness, stupidity and brute nature. Nabokov swears (lies) in the amusingly/annoyingly arrogant forward of the 1961 edition th ...more
Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside)
Let me get this out of the way first: I have a lot of respect for 1984. It's a good book. It's a great book, in fact. George Orwell was a master at his craft.

But Bend Sinister is so amazing, so delicious and so emotionally deep that as good as 1984 is, Bend Sinister still manages to feel like "1984 done right."

Nabokov uses the full force of his incredibly nuanced, unique command of language to paint a picture of a totalitarian regime. His images are beautiful and stunning, and the story at the
Meriam Kharbat
Jan 03, 2013 Meriam Kharbat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian
Frenchman crying - June, 1940

One would think that after the horror of the war had ended, people would have an optimistic vision of the future, that artists would see la vie en rose. However, when you read the books published in the same year the song came out 1947, they all seem to share this horrible idea of what is to come. Bend Sinister isn't any different.

As Nabokov puts it: “People are made to live together, to do business with one another, to talk, to sing songs together, to meet in clubs and stores, and street corner
Apr 14, 2011 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels-english
I have not finished yet -- and I don't know if I will then actually write a review when I do. After all, what can I say or add or... why should I comment... on works of art? Pieces of crap deserve comment. It's obligatory. Works on objective material -- books on history or sociology or entomology or prosody -- can be commented upon or corrected or endorsed...; but ...?-- well, that's just me, maybe.

Anyway -- this is a truly magnificent book. Don't be mislead by some of the less than enthusiastic
Inderjit Sanghera
Feb 12, 2008 Inderjit Sanghera rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the face of it, Bend Sinister is an unusual novel. Nabokov, a self-proclaimed politically apathetic writer, writes a novel about the rise of newly formed dictatorship in a fictitious country. Yet, despite this, Bend Sinister is fundamentally not a political book, or even a book about politics per se, but is more a book about love, or in this case, paternal love, and just as the object of that paternal love dies and is removed from the novel, so the narrator himself, in a miracle of involution ...more
May 31, 2017 Cody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nabo-wabo
(Lightning Review)

The best is the unravel. You'll know it when you get to it. Hi-five to Vacca, he'll get this when he reads it. Revelation: all is not what it seems.

Lightning review grade: sourdough
William Herschel
Dec 15, 2010 William Herschel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, 2012
oh, Nabokov.

Your prose is extremely sexy. And I don't mean you're always describing Lolitas and Adas and the like, but the way you describe and isolate the little every-days and play them every-which-way and turn them inside-out and make them oh-so-clever. You have written the most sensual things I've ever had the pleasure of reading often without the shedding of a single garment.

And this, a novel of governing gone terribly wrong in the form of political dystopia wherein to achieve true human en
Claudia Serbanescu
''Blazon de bastard'' ( sau ''Bend sinister'') conține o lume distopică, în care veți regăsi metodele prin care se instalează totalitarismul într-o societate. Veți afla (dacă nu ați trăit în România înainte de 1989) cum dictatura de inspirație sovietică și nazistă confiscă, modelează sau distruge individul liber-cugetător în scopul nivelării conștiințelor și al instaurării controlului total și definitiv asupra unei comunități. O lume în care viața este posibilă doar în absența iubirii, uscat suf ...more
Lee Kofman
Nov 14, 2016 Lee Kofman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite a few times as I read this novel I felt stupid; for the life of me I couldn’t understand what Nabokov was on about, particularly in the passages pertaining to the work of the main character, the philosopher Krug. Then at other times, particularly in the last quarter of the book, I was so engrossed by the narrative that I forgot where I was. This novel was a hard work but mostly in the good sense of this expression. As I read it I felt this was the right book at the right time to read polit ...more
Jul 25, 2010 Jenelle rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jenelle by: crazy uncle Richard, on my sister's wedding
what'll happen to love, interior life, and the butterflies in a dystopian world??
I'm always charmed by Nabokov's willingness to bore & lose his reader, and this one, his first American novel, is particularly full of tricks. partly they're there to suggest the confusion & bewilderment felt under an absurd totalitarian rule, but partly Nab's just playing. it's like writing in English is still so novel & thrilling for him! even thicker than normal with poetry, puns & reference, it's
Jon Zelazny
Oct 30, 2015 Jon Zelazny rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Gave up on page 40. Hideous writing, hopelessly repellant characters, no apparent story.
Jul 01, 2012 wally rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nabokov
this here is...the second? third? from nabokov i will read...the previous some time ago. this one sounds like a hoot...there is an editor's preface that is short and sweet...and glowing...and there is an introduction by the author that is...well...either one, full of charlie brown's teacher....

mwaw! mwaw mwaw! mwa maaa mwaw!

nobokov...telling the reader about all of the rich detail he installed for our reading pleasure...all of it interesting, to be fair. adds to the temptatio
K.A. Laity
Jan 11, 2011 K.A. Laity rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was actually reading Pale Fire when I decided to switch to Bend Sinister, mostly because I decided I would probably have to buy my own copy of Pale Fire because I was making too many notes and it would be easier to just put them in the book and that wouldn't be good to do with the library's copy.

I learn all my new words from Nabokov.

I had already written down tons of new words from Pale Fire, but I found myself writing quotes from Bend Sinister instead. I alluded in my Hamlet review to Ember's
Sep 10, 2010 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This read much like a pretentious version of a dystopia, like Orwell if he were trying to please a collegiate, indie rock crowd. But, then again, Nabokov is never afraid to shy away from writing something that would prove exactly how brilliant he was. And he was smart; his capacity for learning and using language is impressive to say the least. He's a brilliant writer, too. There's just this semi-bearable attitude of condescension that works sometimes and really frustrates at others. There are s ...more
Nabokov here writes in a post-modern, self-referential, metafictional style, using techniques that when used by other authors have made me feel detached from fictional outcomes.

But with Nabokov these self-referential devices work to draw me in, rather than keep me detached. I don't know quite how he did that. I cared deeply for these characters, even as I was being constantly reminded they were nothing more than lines of words on a page. I had the same impression when reading Nabokov's short sto
Adam Floridia
Dec 09, 2009 Adam Floridia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nabokov
As he points out in his introduction, Nabokov fills his book with so many obscure allusions, subtle themes/motifs, and playfully linguistic choices. Most of these must be lost on most readers (myself included!), which is, perhaps, what promoted him to write the explanatory introduction. It was interesting to read because it really gives the reader the sense that Nabokov is upset that his readers aren't brilliant enough to discern everything he has embedded in the novel. He really is a genius.

I l
Aug 01, 2016 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i can find in this book the particles that might have inspired pynchon and coover and others of that generation along the cusp of modern to post-modern american writing. big particles, smears of hilarity and chokes of sadness. what i can't feel is the balance of it all, though, to make it into a real story.
Dear Vladimir,

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." (Lolita, p. 9)

With these words you drew me into a story of passion, obsession, and perversity. You had me at the first sentence. I was yours for the entirety of the book (even the bits towards the end that kind of dragged). You played with language, used it in such new and beautiful ways. It was a j
Kevin Tole

There is the book, the content of the book, the author and the author's power over the book and the reader interacting with it all. Or is it? Is that all?

Above all, with Nabokov as with Calvino

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino If on a Winter's Night a Traveler ,

there is the Author. There is the taste with Nabokov of the smugness of authorship, of author-ity, of the importance of the meta-fiction as opposed to the fiction, of the 'HEY - this is ME writing - and you reading my writing and you are in my power'. That Naboko
Preston Fleming
Nov 20, 2011 Preston Fleming rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
BEND SINISTER stands at the outer limits of dystopian political fantasy.
Though Nabokov has denied that he intended the novel as social commentary, it is a richly nuanced portrayal of a cultured intellectual caught up in the madness of a tyrannical police state.
The story takes place in a fictional central European country, Padukgrad, endowed with both German and Slavic qualities. Its new dictator and ruling Party of the Common Man embrace an ideology that celebrates the mediocrity of an ignoran
Riley Haas
Dec 15, 2016 Riley Haas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"This is pretty great overall. It appears to be a parody of the Orwell, Huxley, Koestler “topical trash” that Nabokov supposedly despised. Now, I am a fan of all that stuff, but this is still pretty dead on. Dead on both in mocking such literature and also in making the very same point as that literature, and often in an even funnier way.
I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. I know he foreshadows it, but I still don't know that it works for the subject. I think it would work better if
Apr 19, 2015 Boris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Знак за незаконорденост" е 5-та книга на Набоков, която чета и най-накрая разбрах главната причина този тип да ми е сред любимите писатели. Набоков уважава читателя си страшно много и се е постарал това да си личи във всяка дума и изречение от писмото му. Наясно бях, че неговото писане е най-съвършеното от това, което съм чел досега. Обвинявах перфекционизма му, но неговото е май повече от перфекционизъм. Той не иска читателите му да го възприемата като "пефекционист", а като писател, който ги ...more
Dec 21, 2011 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
so i'm again just using this book review spot as a placeholder for other book-y things in my life (SEE BELOW), though i went w/ nabokov specifically because he has crawled into my SKULL lately -- could easily have opted for recent reads laughter in the dark, transparent things, the real life of sebastian knight, the eye, or (currently) despair or pale fire, but bend sinister i'm going to go ahead & declare one of the best novels i've ever read.

what, bring it.

on the one hand shut up nabokov O
Apr 19, 2015 Iris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's somewhat comforting and reassuring that even for someone like Nabokov, one can distinguish between early work and the more accomplished, full maturity masterpieces. In Bend Sinister, Nabokov's "fascination with his own linguistic achievement sometimes causes [him] to go in for verbal fanciness." There's magic in Bend Sinister, but the magician is too inexperienced to hide all the tricks.
I also find Nabokov's fixation with "retrospective eternity" compelling. Speak Memory starts with it: ""
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Goodreads Italia: Un mondo sinistro - Vladimir Nabokov 1 26 Oct 16, 2013 04:23AM  
Nabokov in Three ...: Impressions 1 8 Jul 25, 2012 09:26PM  
  • The American Years
  • The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness
  • Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
  • The Letter Killers Club
  • The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov
  • Black Snow
  • The Duel and Other Stories
  • The Slynx
  • The Foundation Pit
  • The Noise of Time: Selected Prose
  • We Never Make Mistakes: Two Short Novels
  • The Line
  • Moscow 2042
  • The Portable Twentieth-Century Russian Reader
  • Zoo or Letters Not About Love
  • Unforgiving Years
  • Petersburg
  • The Portable Nineteenth-Century Russian Reader (Portable Library)
Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков .

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently
More about Vladimir Nabokov...

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