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Bend Sinister

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  3,717 ratings  ·  256 reviews
Librarian Note: This is an alternate cover edition of ISBN 0141185767 (ISBN13: 9780141185767)

The state has been recently taken over and is being run by the tyrannical and philistine ‘Average Man’ party. Under the slogans of equality and happiness for all, it has done away with individualism and freedom of thought. Only John Krug, a brilliant philosopher, stands up to the
Paperback, Penguin Modern Classics, 201 pages
Published April 26th 2001 by Penguin Classics (first published 1947)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Jim Fonseca
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 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
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 ...more
Mar 21, 2014 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,
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Sinistral Jest

Several GR reviews call this novel a mess. I think this is an understatement: I’d go as far as to call it a quagmire. It takes just 200 pages to bog the reader down, although the process starts and succeeds much earlier than that. As Nabokov said of James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake”, it’s “formless and dull”, “a frightful bore”, “a cold pudding of a book”, and “a tragic failure”. This is second rate Nabokov. Even masters have their off days.

Paradoxically, Nabokov alludes to “Finnegan
May 02, 2011 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 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
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
Anthony Vacca
Aug 29, 2014 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 ...more
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another reviewer here has described Bend Sinister as “a hot mess”, which so perfectly and economically encapsulates the matter that I am tempted to just leave it there. What follows is largely an attempt to restate this in somewhat more refined terms, and to shroud myself in protective caveats and disclaimers, so as to guard against accusations of boorishness for failing to award at least four stars to a work of the great master.

Therefore I present the following as evidence in my defense: I am a
Meriam Kharbat
Jan 03, 2013 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
Inderjit Sanghera
Feb 12, 2008 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 ...more
Apr 14, 2011 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
May 31, 2017 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
Sep 10, 2010 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 ...more
Patrick St-Amand
A very muddled affair indeed. The story itself is interesting (the rehabilitation center for criminals was a highlight and I did enjoy the ending) but we are often distracted by self-conscious tangents that ramble on for pages at a time. It totally disrupts the flow of the story and we're treated to unrelated diversions (the Shakespeare passage amongst others) While I enjoy a diverse vocabulary Nabokov seems to go out of his way to stuff as many words and adjectives as possible. I feel ...more
Jon Zelazny
Oct 30, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chucked
Gave up on page 40. Hideous writing, hopelessly repellant characters, no apparent story.
Madison Santos
Looks like I might be getting my first publishing credit from the MLA this winter for a new set of annotations for Bend Sinister. Will update accordingly!
William Herschel
Dec 15, 2010 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
Lee Kofman
Nov 14, 2016 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 ...more
Damian Murphy
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I in no way consider this to be second-rate Nabokov. In fact, I like it better than Lolita (but not quite as much as Pale Fire). It's been said that the intricate prose distracts from the story, but I think this book is intended to be more like a labyrinth than a conventional narrative. The story itself is extremely simple. Nabokov's writing is often accused of being distant and over-intellectual, but I found quite a bit of haunting beauty in both the imagery and the text.

(This is my second
Jul 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 01, 2016 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.
Jul 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
My introduction toBend Sinister was Michael calling me over to help him decipher how to interpret a sentence on the third page. I read a little extra for context, and got caught up in the satisfaction of untangling sentences so that I could understand them. When Michael offered to lend me the book after he was finished, I thought I was in for a difficult-but-rewarding experience. Bend Sinister, beyond the introduction, actually isn't as challenging to read as I expected. The several chapters I ...more
Simon Hollway
Aug 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
A mixed bag. Boyd claims that Nabokov would spend 6 months preparing a novel in his head and only after it had settled and formed metaphysically would he put pen to paper. Often during this transcription, the next cab would pull up to the rank and Vlad was already assimilating the following book. This is the only way I can explain Bend Sinister. Lolita had elbowed its brilliance into his head whilst he was pulling Bend Sinister together and he just had to get shot of it.
The similarly themed
Lee Razer
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bend Sinister is the second novel that Nabokov wrote in English, the first he wrote in America; a novel fated to live in the shade of his later American novels, destined to be considered about something that is not what Nabokov himself said it was about, which is different from what it seems to be about to me. Contemporaneous reviewers no less than current ones were struck by his otherworldly mastery and use of his adopted language, though not always in a net positive sense. Reviews were mixed, ...more
K.A. Laity
Jan 11, 2011 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
Lark Benobi
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
Adam Floridia
Dec 09, 2009 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.

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Goodreads Librari...: ISBN 9780141197005 to 287 2 13 Mar 16, 2018 03:14PM  
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Nabokov in Three ...: Impressions 1 8 Jul 25, 2012 09:26PM  

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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 a big interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is
“Ink, a Drug.” 127 likes
“Theoretically there is no absolute proof that one's awakening in the morning (the finding oneself again in the saddle of one's personality) is not really a quite unprecedented event, a perfectly original birth.” 81 likes
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