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Invitation to a Beheading Paperback – September 19, 1989

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (September 19, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679725318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679725312
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically." -- John Updike

From the Inside Flap

Like Kafka's The Castle, Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude." an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers. an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws. who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed. he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.

Customer Reviews

The end, to my mind, was a bit confusing.
Rajiv Chopra
BEHEADING also offers its readers Nabokov's usual brilliant and wry prose and uniquely inventive perspective.
Ethan Cooper
Just one note: I would recommend that anyone interested in this book NOT read the back cover.
D. Roberts

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on December 21, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this account of a man sentenced to death, Nabokov reveals a talent for the surreal. The accused man has not been told the date of his death sentence. He has been left completely in the dark. He has been locked up in a very bare and sparse prison, with guards, a prison director and assistant. Yet there are no other prisoners, none in the whole facility.

The mental musings of the prisoner are the focus of the book. The incidents are often highly surreal and not possible. They sometimes seem like one is reading a Magritte. Yet they are illustrative and fascinating. In one scene his family comes to visit him in prison, complete with furniture. In another he sees the prison director who is also the assistant director as miniature people. Wherever his musings take us, they are truly of great interest.

In the final scenes the surreal nature of the musing continues. The scene of the execution is somehow `disturbed.' Things are not as they should be. And as a result, he just disappears, along with everything else.

While the nature of the writing is extremely Kafkaesque, Nabokov had not read any Kafka when he wrote this story. In addition, neither Kafka, nor any of the major existentialists combine their philosophy with surrealism in the same way or to the same degree as does Nabokov in this book.

The book is recommended to all lovers of Nabokov and to those looking for a true contemporary classic fiction novel.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Invitation to a Beheading" is a strange book. First of all, it sports a brilliant preface by the author, and truth be told, this preface is superior to the contents of the novel itself. In response to just a few pages, you feel compelled to buy the author's "Lectures on Literature", which are only a poor substitute for the real experience of listening to Nabokov in person. The author explains the intricacies of translation, done by his son, Dmitri, under the father's supervision, with particular emphasis put on the title. If you are lucky to know Russian, you will be able to appreciate the importance of the problem at hand, and in addition you will see how well this book is translated into English. At different points in his life Nabokov wrote in three different languages, and "Invitation to a Beheading" dates from 1934, in a period where the author still wrote in his beautiful and melodic mother tongue. This is an early book by this author, and ever since its publication it was compared to Franz Kafka's "The Castle", which annoyed Nabokov a little, which he ironically expresses in the aforementioned preface.
"Spiritual affinities have no place in my concept of literary criticism, but if I did have to choose a kindred soul, it would certainly be that great artist [Kafka - the Moose] rather than G. H. Orwell or other popular purveyors of illustrated ideas and publicistic fiction. Incidentally, I could never understand why every book of mine invariably sends reviewers scurrying in search of more or less celebrated names for the purpose of passionate comparison.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 11, 1998
Format: Paperback
Whoever it was that wrote the encyclopedia entry at the top of this page either didn't read the book or didn't understand Nabakov. Invitation to a Beheading is one of the most gorgeous books I've ever read. To drop it under the label "anti-utopian" and try to resolve the ambiguities at the end in a poorly aimed summary doesn't even hint at the richness of the book. Thank goodness Nabakov dedicated his life to writing literature instead of lousey encyclopedia entries. Leaving the political and entering the artistic, the world Nabakov lived in after all, Invitation to a Beheading is one of the finest metaphores on the artistic condition I've ever read. Yes, Kafka is mild in comparision, and, as Nabakov always asserted, there's no connection anyway. --Dane Larsen
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mark Nadja on April 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Often compared to "The Trial" and "The Castle", "Invitation to a Beheading" was written, according to Nabokov in the introduction to this edition, *before* he ever read Kafka. One can believe that or not; either way, Nabokov's book is much more surreal and slapstick than anything Kafka wrote. It is, however, a quintessentially Kafkanaian situation that we find the protagonist Cincinnatus C. facing as the novel opens. He's been sentenced to die; he's not sure why, but it seems it has something to do with his refusal--or constitutional inability--to make a show of enjoying the absurdities and inanities of the world around him. This rejection of conformity, of the communal bond, it seems, has caused society to condemn him for what is the greatest crime on can commit against the group: individuality.

Society demands complicity in its upholding of the consensual reality no matter how insane--and Cincinnatus C. won't endorse the insanity and thus he is a threat to reality itself, a destabilizing force.

I really enjoyed the first fifty pages or so of "Invitation," but one pretty much gets the idea after fifty pages and the routines and jokes wear stale. I found the book hard to finish, primarily, I think, for this very reason. But persevere I did. One thing that didn't help is that whoever the knuckleheads are over at Vintage who wrote the copy on this edition actually gave away the entire story, including the ending, right on the back cover! I mean, this isn't "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Christmas Carol" that we're talking about--we don't all know how it comes out in the end. Come on guys, use your heads.
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More About the Author

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri. Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing ficticvbn ral books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

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