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Pnin Paperback – June 18, 1989

4 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nabokov fans will be disappointed by narrator Stefan Rudnicki's stiff, staid performance in this audio version of the author's 13th novel. Told in a series of vignettes, the story follows Russian immigrant and professor Timofey Pavlovich Pnin as he boards the wrong train on his way to deliver a lecture, loses his luggage, struggles with the English language, hunts for living quarters, deals with his ex-wife, and throws a faculty party. Rudnicki's narration is clear and steady, but fails to capture the playfulness of Nabokov's prose and the humor of the text. Instead, Rudnicki's tone is variously stiff, needlessly booming, or monotone. He does, however, provide a wide range of voices for the cast of characters. His rendition of the title character-which sounds like a hybrid of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat and Soviet comedian Yakov Smirnoff-is dynamic and entertaining. Listeners will be left wishing Rudnicki had infused more of his narration with those qualities. (Nov.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


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

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (June 18, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679723412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679723417
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Vladimir Nabokov is so often called a "master stylist" that it is easy to forget that he is an adept storyteller as well. Even though PNIN, one of his lesser known works, threatens to disappear under the gorgeous stylistic turns, it is ultimately the pathetic title character and his nemesis/narrator who drive this novel. Pnin is a Russian instructor at a college, and, due to his solitary existence and his failure to grasp the subtleties of English, he has become a running joke to most of his colleagues. He is fussy, awkward, and usually clueless. The novel reads as episodes in Pnin's life: losing his lecture notes on a train he should never have been on; his weekend with other Russian immigrants; the crushing love and hope he experiences when his ex-wife visits him; a party he gives for his colleagues. The narrator's the biting and hilarious commentary about Pnin and those he associates with keeps the reader from taking these events too seriously. But should we?
In the writing of this work, Nabokov breaks all the rules. His shifts in points-of-view, his sometimes favoring of lengthy exposition over scene, his dropping of plots and subplots just as they get going all work precisely because he is such a skilled novelist and knows the effect of abandoning conventions. In dashing the reader's hopes, his style takes tenacious hold of the reader's imagination; we learn to trust the voice - even if we shouldn't. This last is what is truly brilliant about the novel: we allow ourselves to be swept into a story of non-events and pathos, laughing along the way and becoming in essence yet another of Pnin's mocking colleagues.
Students of literature and book discussion groups can discover a wealth of topics here: Is the narrator reliable?
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Format: Paperback
The only recommendation I had for this book was the ever-evolving readers' list that Random House is keeping on-line, which tallies the votes of what readers believe are the 100 best English language novels of the 20th Century. "Pnin" showed up near the bottom of the list, but with a respectable number of votes. Having always wanted to get past the Nabokov of "Lolita" fame, I took the plunge. What I found knocked my socks off. If you know ANY Russian intelligencia emigres, you know Timofei Pnin. Pnin is an unsubtle chucklehead with a heart of gold who manages to live a great deal of his life in an academic cocoon, as utterly clueless about how he is being arbitrarily protected by his dean as he is clueless about the comic effect he has on others. Doesn't sound promising? Believe me, Nabokov's deft brush turns this slender thread of an idea into a veritable War-and-Peace of an exercise in how we react to others in our life. Dare we laugh at others? We certainly laugh at Pnin. We howl. How dare we? I place this book among the top five percent of the many books I've read over the last five years.
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Format: Paperback
The overwhelming success and notoriety of Lolita has sometimes had the unfortunate effect of obscuring some of Nabokov's other treasures. Pnin is one such gem, being his third English novel, fragments of which were published during the 50's in the New Yorker.
It is the account of a Timofey Pnin, professor of Classical Russian Literature at Waindell College, a course failing year after year to garner deserved interest. The novel is a succession of carefully blended time morphs, the beginning and end forming a kind of cycle, wherein the reader is made privy to various comical blunders of Pnin's academic life, as well as his painful memories of an exiled Russian past, bloody revolutions and a war-torn Europe. Pnin is proud to have adopted America as a new home, being largely oblivious of his total incompetence in the English language and his role as the butt of many cruel and childish jokes, perpetrated by the rest of Waindell staff. He lives alone, with the pangs of unrequited love and a son whom he barely has the chance to see. Pnin is a charming character, capable of inspiring a spectrum of different emotions.
Such is the plot on surface, deceptively simplistic, though having a complex clockwork running behind scenes. Things take a surprising turn when the narrator is revealed, and Nabokov himself (Mr.N) makes a bewildering appearance in his own book, inviting a complete re-interpretation of many key events. The careful reader will be left pondering the motifs of the squirrel, the identity of the novel's `Evil Maker' and the significance of Pnin's flashbacks. Some logical paradoxes are posed by the novel: there are puzzles to be worked out.
The work is slender and as such is considered one of Nabokov's more accessible novels, which can be enjoyed on a few different levels.
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Format: Hardcover
PNIN must surely be one of the most gentle, merry, sad, and clever books in the English language today. All of these marvelous characteristics rely, of course, on the ability of its creator to weave visual tapestries from his word-hoard, and a superb weaver he is indeed. Vladimir Nabokov is an artist who paints fascinating images for us, with words as his paint and a pen as his brush. That English is a second language for the Russian-born Nabokov merely increases our incredulity at his skill in manipulating it so adroitly with such apparent ease.

In this one slim volume, readers will, on occasion, find a wry, sardonic grin spread across their faces at the description of the ubiquitous college campus, its students, its not-too-illustrious faculty and their pretensions, its too-efficient librarian, and the machinations of campus politics. They will smile with compassion at Timofey Pnin's efforts, never quite successful, to master the peculiarities of English, one chapter, for example, being devoted to his hosting a "house-heating" party. They will feel their protectiveness rise for this essentially good man who continually suffers the slings and arrows of cruel fortune.

Analyses of PNIN speak of the instances of bathos in the book, but that word, to me, suggests an exaggeration of pathos so great that the reader is repulsed by its artificiality. I do not find Nabokov's writing to be that crude or "over the top." Rather, the pathos is almost understated.
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