In a world where translucency is valued and opaqueness is a social sin, a man finds himself convicted of a crime he didn't commit, but can't plead innIn a world where translucency is valued and opaqueness is a social sin, a man finds himself convicted of a crime he didn't commit, but can't plead innocent to. In Invitation to a Beheading we get to spend some time with him as he awaits his impending decapitation.
I don't think anyone else could have pulled this off, but Nabokov brilliantly, as usual, blurs the lines between fiction and science fiction and delivers a great story....more
This book is awful. The language is unbelievably repetitive and the narrative style is as schizophrenic as the main character. Dostoyevsky calls the pThis book is awful. The language is unbelievably repetitive and the narrative style is as schizophrenic as the main character. Dostoyevsky calls the protagonist "our hero" 191 times and if that wasn't enough, just about every time he refers to him he also feels it necessary to say "the good Golyadkin, not the bad Golyadkin" or "the old Golyadkin and not the new Golyadkin." It's so mind numbingly tedious that I could hardly get past it to take in the story.
I've always had a hard time with books that have no sympathetic characters, and this one definitely falls into that category. There's not a single character I could, or wanted to, identify with. It may be that you can write a story from the perspective of a schizophrenic and still have it turn out good, but Dostoyevsky certainly failed to do it here. It is painful for me to trash the book since Dostoyevsky is one of my all-time favorites, but the fact is, this book without such a famous author, would have have long been forgotten....more
It's not like the Nabokov I know to write a Russian book, but despite its Berlin setting, this is a very Russian book. There's a Dostoyevsky-like dinnIt's not like the Nabokov I know to write a Russian book, but despite its Berlin setting, this is a very Russian book. There's a Dostoyevsky-like dinner scene, mentions of revolutions and Cossacks, stealing money from drawers and of course plenty of drunkenness. It's strange to get so much of it from an author that despite his origins, feels so American. Still, amidst all the uncharacteristic Russianness, there is a definite hint of what was to come in later Nabokov novels.
There's some of the cynicism:
"Vulgar little man," thought Ganin as he watched Alfyorov's twitching beard. "I bet his wife's frisky. It's a positive sin not to be unfaithful to a man like him."
Back in his room he tried to read, but he found the contents of the book so alien and inappropriate that he abandoned it in the middle of a subordinate clause. He was in the kind of mood that he called ‘dispersion of the will.’
And of course the descriptions that you have to read twice, both to understand them and to re-experience the chills you got reading them the first time:
And in those streets, now as wide as shiny black seas, at that late hour when the last beer-hall has closed, and a native of Russia, abandoning sleep, hatless and coatless under an old mackintosh, walks in a clairvoyant trance; at that late hour down those wide streets passed worlds utterly alien to each other: no longer a reveler, a woman, or simply a passer-by, but each one a wholly isolated world, each a totality of marvels and evil.
In short, it's early Nabokov but it's still Nabokov and as such, will bear reading and re-reading. ...more
I loved this book, not because it's Russian and I love Russian books, or because it's old and I love old books, but because it's flat out a great storI loved this book, not because it's Russian and I love Russian books, or because it's old and I love old books, but because it's flat out a great story. The beginning is a little rough. I thought it was going to be one of those Russian books with so many names that you can hardly follow the plot. It's not. It's mostly love story, part political commentary (you can take the politics for what they are, they aren't too prevalent). The love story easily stands on its own. It's fast paced, keeps you guessing, at times is very touching and it's a quick read. If you're on the fence about it, just read it! You won't regret it....more
This is a ridiculous book. It is the letters exchanged between a poor old man and a poor young woman who live in the same housing complex but who rareThis is a ridiculous book. It is the letters exchanged between a poor old man and a poor young woman who live in the same housing complex but who rarely see each other for the sake of propriety. It's basically something like this:
"Oh Makar this week I lost my job and I'm running out of cash and I'm feeling so sick that I just might die! Whatever shall I do!"
"Oh Varvara, you poor child. Let me, as a father figure, send you some flowers and linens even though I have no money and will probably get drunk this weekend and I am only half a man!"
"Oh Makar, stop sending me things you can't afford. You're so poor and you never come visit me and you have terrible taste in books and when I was a child I was once in love with a boy who died!"
"Oh Varvara, my taste in books isn't that bad. True, I can't write and I have no style and everything I write is so deliberate and forced that it's painful to read, except when I declare my love to you, in those instances where I'm passionate my writing improves slightly. Vavara you know that I like sending you things I can't afford but this week my horrible landlady needs money and I have none, and whatever shall I do! I am a broken man!"
And so on. These two make Myshkin, the "idiot" look like a genius. ...more
For me as a programmer, going from reading most fiction to reading Tolstoy is like going from writing Java to writing Ruby. It just feels right, I feeFor me as a programmer, going from reading most fiction to reading Tolstoy is like going from writing Java to writing Ruby. It just feels right, I feel more relaxed and at one with the world. I can't think of another author that apparently understands the thoughts and motivations of such a large swath of humanity and communicates them so simply and perfectly.
The Cossacks isn't as expansive as War and Peace or as dramatic as Anna Karenina, but it is a story worth reading. It has its share of suspense and murder, of philosophy and humor of nature and depravity, of love and heaving bosoms and of course, beautiful writing....more
Usually in a book you find a character that you identify with--someone whose motives you understand. I didn't find that character in The Idiot. The unUsually in a book you find a character that you identify with--someone whose motives you understand. I didn't find that character in The Idiot. The unifying trait of all of them is the way their lives are directed by passion. None of them are rational--whether blinded by love, money or vice; whether good or evil, they each act to slowly bring about their own ruin. It's tragic and disconcerting to watch them slowly come unravelled.
Though Prince Myshkin is the "idiot" the book is named for, he is definitely not, at least at the time the story takes place, an idiot. He's innocent and good, but is consistently (and disconcertingly) brazenly honest. It is shocking. When he bares his soul to people who care nothing for him, it's almost too much. The Idiot is a blood on wool contrast of his goodness and the depravity every other character where the end result is the same for everyone.
This story, like most serialized Russian novels, is episodic and probably unnecessarily long. Among the many tangents are, as are so often found in Russian literature, philosophical and religious ponderings, commentary on the stratification of Russian society and descriptions of contemporary historical events. Through it all there is a beautiful, tragic love story where human flaws are shown raw and unpolished. The ending is insane. It's bizarre. Surreal. It's worth reading the whole book for the ending....more
After reading Lolita, I knew that I'd need another book to feed my new addiction to Nabokov. Something I could read over and over. Something with hisAfter reading Lolita, I knew that I'd need another book to feed my new addiction to Nabokov. Something I could read over and over. Something with his deliciously clever writing, minus the pedophilia. I had high hopes for The Defense and I enjoyed the book, but didn't quite find what I was looking for. I'm not sure if some of his writing genius was lost in translation, it was written in Russian then translated to English, or if it was simply that in the 25 years spanning the works he became a better author. Either way, while some of his talent for word smithing is there, it holds only a pale fire to Lolita.
The theme of the book adds to the stereotype that Russians are obsessed with chess. To it's credit though, The Defense makes a solid case for why such an obsession might be rational. Despite the game being the protagonist Luzhin's demise, it is presented as such a fascinating contest that I couldn't help but to break out a chess set and see if I didn't have the potential for grandmastery myself. I got a little ego boost by cleanly drubbing my 7 year old, but it came with the distinct feeling that I should confine my forays into chess to the literary realm.
For Luzhin, a guy who probably organizes his closet chronologically by purchase date, chess is more than a game. It becomes his life, it consumes him to the point where not even his devoted, Middlemarchian wife can rescue him from the obsession. Some of the best writing in the book describes his complete absorption in the game:
Luzhin, preparing an attack for which it was first necessary to explore a maze of variations, where his every step aroused a perilous echo, began a long meditation: he needed, it seemed, to make one last prodigious effort and he would find the secret move leading to victory. Suddenly, something occurred outside his being, a scorching pain — and he let out a loud cry, shaking his hand stung by the flame of a match, which he had lit and forgotten to apply to his cigarette. The pain immediately passed, but in the fiery gap he had seen something unbearably awesome, the full horror of the abysmal depths of chess. He glanced at the chessboard and his brain wilted from hitherto unprecedented weariness. But the chessmen were pitiless, they held and absorbed him. There was horror in this, but in this also was the sole harmony, for what else exists in the world besides chess? Fog, the unknown, non-being...
And later, maybe my favorite paragraph of the bok comes when Luzhin is descending back into his affliction. This is where the writing in The Defense seems to come closest to Lolita:
But the next move was prepared very slowly. The lull continued for two or three days; Luzhin was photographed for his passport, and the photographer took him by the chin, turned his face slightly to one side, asked him to open his mouth wide and drilled his tooth with a tense buzzing. The buzzing ceased, the dentist looked for something on a glass shelf, found it, rubber-stamped Luzhin's passport and wrote with lightning-quick movements of the pen. 'There,' he said, handing over a document on which two rows of teeth were drawn, and two teeth bore inked-in little crosses. There was nothing suspicious in all this and the cunning lull continued until Thursday. And on Thursday, Luzhin understood everything.
It's a good book. It's not what I hoped for from Nabokov, but for almost any other author it'd be a summit.
Oh, and if you'd like to read the book without knowing the entire plot first, do NOT read Nabokov's introduction. Without warning he gives away all of the major turns in the book then casually reveals the ending to top it off. ...more