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Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov

Bend Sinister (1947)

by Vladimir Nabokov

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1,289206,081 (3.8)61
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This book reminded me a a little of "Invitation to a Beheading" because of the nightmarish, inescapable feeling of doom throughout the story. However, while "Invitiation" had a kind of Alice-in-Wonderlandish absurdity to it that makes it almost charming, this book is filled with sharp punches to the gut that are too disturbing to be charming. It is the story of one man's attempt to escape a totalitarian regime. Worth reading, but not really a pleasant experience. ( )
  Marse | Sep 9, 2017 |
One thing I find hardest to do is blast a novel by a well-known, widely-admired, great writer. So I struggle to write this review of Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov. I read this novel long before I started keeping track of my reading with this journal more than 10 years ago. Perhaps I notice the things which bothered me more now that I have experience writing these reviews. Reading with a possible public review in mind certainly has affected these writings.

Nabokov is well-known for his meticulous pursuit of the correct word in a sentence. I have heard tell he sometimes spent hours trying to find a precise word to fill a blank in a sentence, of a chapter, of a novel. I admit to sometimes searching for a particular word, but I never spent more than a few minutes – sometimes with the help of a dictionary and a thesaurus.

When I began re-reading Bend Sinister, I was immediately struck by his diction. In the first chapter, he wrote, “An oblong puddle in the coarse asphalt; like a fancy footprint filled to the brim with quicksilver; like a spatulate hole through which you can see nether sky. Surrounded. I note, by a diffuse tentacled black dampness where some dull dun leaves have stuck. Drowned, I should say, before the puddle had shrunk to its present size” (1). Can readers spot the two “made-up words”? Can you spot words that seem just a bit pretentious? Not to forget to mention some rather strange syntax?

Now, I pride myself on a higher than usual vocabulary, but on the other hand I have long fought the fight against obfuscation in my diction. I suspect the latter was a reaction to the legalese I suffered through for about 15 years. I might also blame my admiration for Hemingway, that is, his diction not his misogyny. I even find this paragraph a bit pretentious. What is a reader/writer to do?

Well, I have decided. I am going to tell the world I believe the emperor has no clothes or, rather, the emperor has too many dictionary pages stuck to his crown.

Here is part of another paragraph my reading notes labeled as poetic. Nabokov wrote, “November trees, poplars, I imagine, two of them growing straight out of the asphalt: all of them in the cold bright sun, bright richly furrowed bark and an intricate sweep of numberless burnished bare twigs, old gold—because getting more of the falsely mellow sun in the higher air. Their immobility is in contrast with the spasmodic ruffling of the inset reflection—for the visible emotion of a tree is the mass of its leaves, and there remain hardly more than thirty-seven or so here and there on one side of the tree. They just flicker a little, of a neutral tint, but burnished by the sun to the same ikontinct…” (2). “Ikontinct” is not in my OED or my Random House Dictionary of well-over twenty-four hundred pages. It is amazing how a single word can spoil otherwise wonderful poetic phrasing.

Okay, so now I must choose: slog through hundreds of pages with who knows how many unidentifiable words, or revert with a measure of pretension of my own to that old Latin phrase: Quot Libros, Quam Breve Tempus. Look it up if you wish. 2 stars.

--Jim, 3/5/17 ( )
  rmckeown | Apr 9, 2017 |
Haunting and humane. The protagonist, Krug, can also be viewed as an antagonist, by way of Toad, the book's obvious antagonist.
( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
Nabokov here writes in a post-modern, self-referential, metafictional style, using techniques that when used by other authors have made me feel detached from fictional outcomes.

But with Nabokov these self-referential devices work to draw me in, rather than keep me detached. I don't know quite how he did that. I cared deeply for these characters, even as I was being constantly reminded they were nothing more than lines of words on a page. I had the same impression when reading Nabokov's short story masterpiece Symbols and Signs, which was able to mock fictional techniques while at the same time exploiting those techniques to move me.

I'm very happy to know people still read this book. It's so extraordinary, and it requires a leap of faith to keep yourself reading. It's not like any other book and that can be disorienting. You have to surrender to it.

And, I'm just glad there is a book in the world called "Bend Sinister." ( )
  poingu | Jan 29, 2015 |
Nabokov's novel is set in a fictitious European city known as Padukgrad, where a government arises following the philosophy known as "Ekwilism", which discourages the idea of anyone being different from anyone else, and promotes the state as the prominent good in society. The story begins with the protagonist, Adam Krug, who had just lost his wife to an unsuccessful surgery, asked to sign and deliver a speech to the leader of the new government by the head of the university and his colleagues. However he refuses. This government is led by a man named Paduk and his "Party of the Average Man." As it happens, the world-renowned philosopher Adam Krug was, in his youth, a classmate of Paduk, at which period he had bullied him and referred to him disparagingly as "the Toad". Paduk arrests many of the people close to Krug and those against his Ekwilist philosophy, and attempts to get the influential Professor Krug to promote the state philosophy to help stomp out dissent and increase his personal prestige. The novel is effective in tone and demonstrates Nabokov's unique style of word play. ( )
  jwhenderson | Apr 8, 2013 |
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An oblong puddle inset in the coarse asphalt; like a fancy footprint filled to the brim with quicksilver; like a spatulate hole through which you can see the nether sky.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679727272, Paperback)

The first novel Nabokov wrote while living in America and the most overtly political novel he ever wrote, Bend Sinister is a modern classic.  While it is filled with veiled puns and characteristically delightful wordplay, it is, first and foremost, a haunting and compelling narrative about a civilized man caught in the tyranny of a police state. It is first and foremost a compelling narrative about a civilized man and his child caught up in the tyranny of a police state.  Professor Adam Krug, the country's foremost philosopher, offers the only hope of resistance to Paduk, dictator and leader of the Party of the Average Man.  In a folly of bureaucratic bungling and ineptitude, the government attempts to co-opt Krug's support in order to validate the new regime.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:31 -0400)

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Professor Adam Krug, the foremost philosopher of his country, is, along with his son, kidnapped by the government in hopes of making him support Paduk, dictator and leader of the Party of the Average Man.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185767, 0141197005

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