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Vladimir Nabokov : Novels and Memoirs 1941-1951 : The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, Speak, Memory (Library of America) Hardcover – October 1, 1996
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Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Three of them were compiled into "Novels and Memoirs 1941-1951": the horrifying political satire "Bend Sinister," the entertainingly offbeat "Real Life of Sebastian Knight," and the unique memoir "Speak Memory." These three each demonstrate why Vladimir Nabokov was one of the best writers of the 20th century.
"Bend Sinister" is the most obviously political of all the novels Nabokov wrote.
It tells the story of Krug, a philosopher in the land of Padukgrad, who is dealing with the death of his wife, and having to raise his young son alone. To make things worse, an inept inventor's son named Paduk, has become the dictator. Worse, Krug is somehow in Paduk's way -- and Paduk will do anything to get Krug to endorse him. Literally, anything.
"The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" has a lighter tone than "Bend Sinister," with an unnamed narrator searching for clues about the true persona of his brother, Sebastian Knight, a famed writer. It ends up becoming a superb satire/detective story, looking at the faint traces that biographers snatch at, but which can only give a tiny look at the whole.
"Speak Memory" is an entirely different kind of book -- it's all about Nabokov himself. He reexamines his colorful life, but not so much through basic experiences and facts. Instead, he looks at how he made sense of the world, whether as a privileged child, a man torn up by the Russian Revolution, and finally finding sanctuary in another land.Read more ›
Angle the mirror another way, and he is one of the founders of the modernist novel, which to some people -- myself included -- that's a damning phrase. "Modernist" and "post-modernist" literature seems a) self-referencing to the point of egotism; b) dedicated to the advancement of decedent themes, and to score big points as a writer, pile it on, brother; and c) obsessed with the discovery that the "arts" -- whether books, pictures or movies -- are artificial, and that we use them to create, well, books, pictures and movies.
Unless you think I am making it up, here's an example drawn from real life: a few years back, a Charlotte museum mounted an exhibition of a painter's work, one of which was a canvas whose front side was turned toward the wall, exposing a paint-stained frame. A newspaper reviewer breathlessly informed the reading public that the artist did this "to inform the viewer that most paintings are recetangular."
Now, a reasonably intelligent person could probably reach that conclusion without much effort, but discoveries like these seem to drive those who tread into the "modern" era of art.
So Vlaidmir Nabokov's reputation is caught between two very opposing poles. He either panders to the worst tastes of man, or the worst tastes of art.
Fortunately, he is neither, and the Library of America agrees.Read more ›
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