Pnin -Nabokov   Leave a comment

This is another novel from the list, 1001 books to read before you die, which I am attempting to complete. Pnin is the novel which launched Nabokov as a famous author, not Lolita, which is what most people assume.
Pnin was published in 1957, the year before Lolita. Nabokov, is the pen name of Vladimir Sirin, born in Russia 1899 and lived most of his life in USA, dying there in 1977. He joined the staff of Wellesley College, Massachusetts, in 1941 as a lecturer in comparative literature.

Pnin is a comic novel, based around the character of Assistant Professor Timofey Pnin, in his mid-50s, who lectures in Russian at the fictional Waindell College, based on Wellesley College where Nabokov taught.

Pnin is described as bald, with spindly legs and feminine feet. He constantly muddles his words and actions. He speaks very bad English. Each chapter is a new adventure for Pnin. During the novel we are introduced to the other lecturers and their wives. Many of them do not like Pnin.
We also meet his son, Victor and his ex-wife, an eccentric poet.

The novel only reveals the identity of the narrator at the close of the novel. Another person with a very complex relationship with Pnin.

The story is lightly comic, and reads like a set of episodes of a serialised story; which is how it was initially published. Pnin reappears in Nabokov’s novel, Pale Fire, which I have yet to read.

The novel was written simultaneously with Lolita, and Pnin is the absolute opposite of the main character, Humboldt, in every way.

Nabokov is famous for his squirrel motif, which recurs throughout his novels. This was intended to refer to Mira, Nabokov’s love, who died in Buchenwald during the Holocaust.

Pnin is a funny novel, with a great sadness running through. The memory of Mira, the relationship Pnin has with his son, Victor, yet his inability to cope with his life properly. A lot of Nabokov’s experiences as a professor in USA are included in this novel. Pnin was based on a friend of his, a fellow lecturer, who wasn’t very happy with the characterisation.

I enjoyed the story, poles apart from Lolita, which I have previously read. I think this one is far more personal, and much more biographical.


Posted July 25, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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