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Invitation to a Beheading Paperback – September 19, 1989
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"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.
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Many have compared this Nabokov (written in 1935) to Franz Kafka, but the wellspring is really more deeply rooted in the existential guilt that plagues the modern psyche. In earlier times, all shared in the social code of justice and understood the right and wrong, whether or not they agreed with it; but in the 20th century, there emerged a certain arbitrainess of authority that made potential criminals of all somewhere inside their minds. I think of the French author Celine in this context, as well as an unpublished novel of my own written almost 40 years ago.
So it is easy to see how Nafisi could apply the parallels to her situation in Tehran, forced to veil, forced to accept, unable to flee, to the situation of Cincinnatus C. I think that anyone who has lived an even mildly contemplative life can feel the constriction that such or any arbitrary authority causes.
But what I really want to say about "Invitation to a Beheading" is a bit more personal in nature. Have you ever awoken from a complex dream and thought, "I wish I could write this down, it's really a good story"? No one I have ever read, including Joyce, has done as well at capturing a dream state as Nabokov does in the early pages of "Invitation." And, as if to prove it is not a fluke or a lucky break, he comes back to it again and again, right up until the powerful closing scene.
"Invitation to a Beheading" is a powerful dream that too many of us have had, deep in our own gnostical turpitude. It is almost miraculous that one could capture it so well, especially one such as Nabokov whom we know for his open-eyed precision in the later works. But miraculous or not, our heightened ability to relate to it does not say good things about where we have come in the early days of the 21st century.
Seller apologized and refunded immediately. This is greatly appreciated --tho I still need the book and have lost time. I hope sellers of books advertise used books accurately to avoid problems like this for either party.
Invitation to a Beheading is a phenomenological exploration (in the tradition of Husserl, but more resembling Gaston Bachelard's phenomenology), serving to snap us out of our familiarity and out of our forgetting of the nature of our reality by continually inserting the ridiculous into the narrative: a family who brings their furniture with them to jail for a brief visit of an inmate; a spider who inhabits a cell with the protagonist and who is fed and coddled; an execution ceremony which resembles a circus/variety-show act; chairs and furniture that move at will, "and never spend the night in the same spot twice"; and seemingly nonsensical meanderings such as the observation that "an insane man mistakes his visiting kin for galaxies, logarithms, low-haunched hyenas".
I wouldn't say I *enjoyed* this work - though the book was relatively short, it took me weeks to trudge through it; still, it quickly became one of my "favorites", and a work I would recommend to any of my literary friends above others in a heartbeat. I attempt to rate books not on my personal preference, but on whether they hold unique relevance, meaning, and display brilliant writing or insights into human nature. There is no question that, although, as some have complained, this work lacks a "plot" or "character development", it is nevertheless a surreal masterpiece that reveals the absurdity in our own (moral, social) conventions.
HIGHLY recommended, though you probably will not enjoy it if you are looking for a book with a "plot" and if you are easily frustrated by one in which not much seems to "happen". Invitation to a Beheading is more like a storied philosophy or work of abstract art than it is a novel.
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