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am 6. Oktober 1999
Keep in mind as you read anything that Nabokov wrote that English is this man's second language. Many people only know Vladimir Nabokov as the author of the controversial classic, Lolita. That's a shame. Not to say that Lolita isn't one of the finest books ever written. It is, but the duststorm of strong emotions that the book whipped up created a cloud of obscurity that blurred his many other contributions the history of literature. It lead to many blinded generalities of Nabokov as an "immoral" or "obscene" writer. Those under the mis-guided impression that all Nabokov was about, like so many mediocre artists today, is shock and controversy are in for a shock of an entirely different sort if they read this delicious collection of 65 short stories. His short stories offer conclusive evidence that Nabokov had a gift for storytelling that went far beyond simply lifting the rocks off wet ground and showing us the slimy creatures underneath--he could also show us why those too are beautiful. His collection is edited by his son Dmitri Nabokov who also acted the role of translator, in close collaboration with the man himself, on most of his Russian works. Translations, of course, always offer a delicate problem of who to credit or critisize for particular stylistic choices, but in this family project it's clear that these versions at least received the approval of the author. Beginning writers who stand over-awed and intimidated by the prose master of Nabokov's later, familiar works might find some relief in examples taken from his early stories. They prove that Nabokov was not simply born with the ability to jot down genius, but that his style of storytelling is a craft he worked on and fiddled with for years before he could perfect it. Not that any of them fall completely flat (I'm sure he wrote bad stories in his life, but I'm also sure he would never have allowed their inclusion), but some stumble a bit as the young writer gropes for style, theme and a defintion of art he wanted his stories to exemplify. For example, early efforts like "A matter of Chance," or "Revenge" attempt the clever twist-ending so tempting to young authors. These stories are fun, they may make you smile, but they won't leave you in a state of awe. On the other side in his early repetoire, stories like "A guide to Berlin," "Sounds," and "Terror" seem almost more like excercises in description or experiments in creating a single mood than fully formed stories on their own. It is in the alchemic combination of those two aspects of storytelling when Nabokov reached his stride and began his favorite game of blending Art and "reality" together as fiction (early works like "La Veneziana" point to this potential and direction). Later efforts, mostly written in English, show why it is not the controversy that makes him an artist, but instead his control of the language, his understanding of the human heart, his mastery of dense imagery and detail, and most of all, his insistence that literature ought to be a game, to be fun. "Spring in Fialta," "A Forgotten Poet," and the autobiographical "Mademoiselle O" are but three that come to mind that show a complexity of emotion that do not make you laugh and then cry but instead (something far more brilliant) laugh and cry at the same time. "The Vane Sisters" may just be the most clever, beautiful and maddening story in the English language (do NOT read Nabokov's note at the end until you've read it at least twice). Anyone familiar with Nabokov's style will understand when I call it "dense." His prose is indeed delicious but as rich as the finest banquet. Don't rush through it. Savor the talent and the language. Don't read more than a couple stories at a time, even though most are short (10 pages). Let them sink in and digest. These 65 stories run the gambit from main course to dessert, and I guarentee you won't leave this book unsatisfied.
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am 18. November 2013
This year I read "Speak, Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov, because the Dutch writer Bernlef had been asked to write his memoirs and was looking for examples. He referred to the French writer Patrick Modiano and to Nabokov. I was so impressed by Nabokov's style and by the story of his life and the way he modeled his chapters according to a specific theme or person, that I wanted to go on reading. After that, I read "Pnin", which was very funny and again, very well written. Also, I bought his Stories. The 68 stories are about turning points in the lives of Russian exiles, mainly living in Berlin after the Great War. It shows how many people were at a loss at the time, and how much they had lost from their former lives. I find that interesting for historical reasons, too. The first half of the 20th century has my particular interest. In Holland nothing happened, and our history books were strictly limited to our national story while the rest of Europe was in turmoil. Literature brings you into the heart of what it did to people who had nothing to do with politics, but happened to be on the scene, and were the victims. Nabokov, by the way, has a keen eye for the fact that not all exiled people were just pitiful victims, but remained the scoundrels they used to be.
"Lolita" I read about 30 years ago. I found it's theme so disgusting, that I had decided: so far for Nabokov. I am glad I now thought otherwise.
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am 26. November 1995
Actually, this book came out in October 1995, translated by Dmitri Nabokov (the author's son)and priced at US$35. It's a thick volume of Nabokov's stories, some translated from Russianand others in their naked English. Fans of Nabokov (who is best known for having authored Lolita, which may rank as the best work of fiction ever written in English and is at this moment (11/24/95) being made into yet another movie) have been awaiting these stories for a long time. Reading these stories makes it seem incredible that Nabokov did not receive a Nobel prize for literature while other, lesser authors enjoyed that distinction. Then again, considering the recent recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps it is not such a great distinction after all. In any case, the stories are mostly brilliant and deserve much more fanfare than they have received. "A Dashing Fellow" exemplifies his flashes of genius, precision, and as the title of that story suggests, punniness. Nabokov is a superb linguistic and literary magician, an exemplary storyteller, and at times a teacher. What he teaches best is that both God and the Devil are in the details.
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am 23. August 1999
Only two reviews to date of this magnificent collection? What is wrong with people? This is an absolutely essential book for anyone meaning to come to terms with the finest literature of this century.
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am 7. Juni 1999
before i read this collection i divided it into the five nabokov "dozen"..i read the dozen first fllowed by a roman beauty then tyrants destoyed, then details of a sunset, then remaining bottom of barrel. i enjoyed reading it this way, but u can also read it from first story to last and still enjoy it.. for some reason i divided it and would recommend you do so also..just go to back of book and look to see how it is split into "dozens" enjoy either way!!!!!!
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am 12. Juli 2000
As banal as it may sound, these stories are true treasures of language. If I were banished to a desert island with only one book, it would be these stories of Mr. Nabokov. His prose stands in a category I believe only two other authors habitate (Joyce & Proust). Each story is alive, from early Russian translations to later English originals (everyone is hereby required to read "The Vane Sisters"). Truly astounding, condensed bursts of imagination.
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