Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why I love Vladimir Nabokov

Why I love Vladimir Nabokov

I am almost done with Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov.
Its the first book I've read by him in a few years and I am shocked that I could have waited so long.

The previous books I've read by him:
Pale Fire


The Defense

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight 

Newly finished since I wrote this blog post originally
Speak, Memory
Bend Sinister

The first reason I love Nabokov's books is each he filled with exotic intoxicating language. Heres an example from the passage I am reading right now in Speak Memory,
"The slender shadows of oleander leaves would cautiously move in the sea breeze along a pale wall, as if pointing as something, with a great show of stealth."

 He uses alliteration frequently as seen in this example from the same book.
"Happy is the novelist who manages to preserve an actual love letter that he received when he was young within a work of fiction, embedded in it like a clean bullet in flabby flesh and quite secure there, among spurious lives."

He goes on in this beautiful passage about leaving Russia:
"In March 1919, the Reds broke through in northern Crimea, and from various ports a tumultuous evacuation of anti-Bolshevik groups began. Over a glassy sea in the bay of Sebastropol, under wild machine-gun fire from the shore (the Bolshevik troups had just taken the port), my family and I set out for Constantinople and Piraeus on a small and shoddy Greek ship Nadezhda (Hope) carrying a cargo of dried fruit. I remember trying to concentrate, as we were zigzagging out of the bay on a game of chess with my father - one of the knights had lost its head, and a poker chip replaced a missing rook- and the sense of leaving Russia was totally eclipsed by the agonizing thought that Reds or no Reds, letters from Tamara would be still coming, miraculously and needlessly, to southern Crimea, and would search there for fugitive addressee, and weakly flap about like bewildered butterflies set loose in an alien zone, at the wrong altitude, among an unfamiliar flora"

The second reason why I love Nabokov is because I learn so many new words. In the last few minutes I've learned the following new words:
Coeval - means the same or equal age, antiquity or duration.
Antiphonal - a psalm, anthem, a verse sung responsively
Spurious - of deceitful nature
Plangent - Having a loud reverberating sound
Pell-mell - in mingled confusion or disorder
Syncopate - to shorten or produce by syncope, to cut short
Garrulous - given to prosy, rambling, or tedious talking
Chamfra - to cut a furrow in

Thats just in the last two pages that I've been reading.

The third reason to love Nabokov is for his memorable characters. They are so sincere and so sincerely wrong. Humbert in Lolita is in love with a child and yet he continues to love her when she is grown leaving some room to believe that he might actually love a person instead of an age range.

Luzhin the chess master in The Defense confuses the real world with Chess. When he is not playing chess he believes he is dreaming and loves his dream, but knows its still just a dream. 

Of course my favorite, Charles Kinbote from Pale Fire who we learn about as he gives a literary review of a poem his neighbor wrote. The book is laid out as a poem followed by a literary critic of the poem. Kinbote believes his the exiled king of Zembla and that the entire poem is actually about his life and his escape from his supposed country. He is a narcissistic meglomaniac who twists each line of verse to tell his own story.

These memorable characters crack me up just thinking about them. Seeing them bubble along as they try to make their way in life creates very fun stories. 

Nabokov's lovely language, variety of vocabulary, and characters should not be missed. I hope that you have already enjoyed Nabokov's works and if not, I hope I've convinced you to read a few. They are sure to reward you with 

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