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Invitation to a Beheading
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on August 23, 2007
I only came to know of this early Nabokov novel by reading the wonderful "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi (highly recommended), a study of the relevance of literature in the personal quest for freedom from the crushing weight of oppression. Certainly the protagonist of "Invitation to a Beheading," Cincinnatus C., is a relevant case in point, given that he has been sentenced to death for an obscure crime (gnostical turpitude)and is constantly under the manipulatory pressures of absurd agents of the state. In this he is not at all unlike Nafisi and all the other victims of Khomeini's revolutionary guards who interpret the crimes as they go along. Others may find some parallels in modern America.
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 I think of the French author Celine in this context, as well as an unpublished novel of my own written almost 40 years ago.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.
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on February 12, 2014
Used book was marked up with PINK hilites, notes in margins, and upon opening the book, a large "Property of" label. Yes, this is a used book, No, the seller had no basis for stating it to be in excellent (or even good) condition. I've purchased many used books in the past with the same rating and none (zero) of them were in this poor condition. I purchased this book to replace a book that my son had checked out of the library for a school assignment. The library suggested I purchase a used book in good condition to replace it rather than pay the price of a new book. I'll see if they'll take it, but it is unlikely. If they do, I am sorry for anyone who checks it out as they will need to get through the annoying pink hilites that only an owner of a book should do. This seller did not offer the correct condition nor did they specify that hi-liting had been done.
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.
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on May 17, 2014
What an amazing prose! Even with lots of repetition and as crazy as the whole book is I will read it again
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on November 12, 2014
100 stars! This is by far one of the most absurd, imaginative, and metaphorically insightful works of art I have ever encountered - it is what I would imagine a Dali painting to be if it were a novel. It is also brilliantly written.

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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on December 14, 2013
I gave it a four-star rating rather than a five because I cannot honestly say "I love" any book. Nabokov's writings are excellent, and "Invitation to a Beheading" is no exception. He is a favorite author. My only criticism of his writing style is his over-use of parentheticals, which I find distracting and aggravating.
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on June 12, 2015
It's Nabolkov. What else it there to say? This is a cleanly printed copy that I purchased specifically for taking note-taking and dog-earing. Is a favorite book and certainly my favorite by this author.
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on January 21, 2015
This novel captivated me from the beginning. Nabokov's style can sometimes cloud enjoyment, but in this case he was not overly preachy or wordy. How much control do YOU have over your fate?
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on April 5, 2014
This book was very strange. It seemed to me that Nabokov intended for us to believe some of it was reality and some hallucinations or dreams. The line between the two was very blurry. It was an interesting study set in an unknown country.
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on October 12, 2017
Most of the stuff that imprison/constrain you are just in your head. You can walk away anytime.
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on September 30, 2013
I like the way that the book started. There was a sense of eeriness in the book, and the atmosphere was surreal. It was almost spooky. The reason why the hero is arrested is not clear, and then the book starts to weave in and out.

The end, to my mind, was a bit confusing. Was the hero himself escaping, or was it is spirit that escaped? The spirit that refuses to bow to the mundane.

The book is written very well. The writing is masterly, but somewhere, I feel that Vladmir got caught in his own net, and this made the book less enjoyable for me
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