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Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin (original 1957; edition 2004)

by Vladimir Nabokov

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2,935421,959 (3.91)1 / 133
Authors:Vladimir Nabokov
Info:Everyman's Library (2004), Hardcover, 184 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:russian, usa

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Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (1957)

  1. 02
    Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith (bertilak)
    bertilak: Smith's book is a trifle by comparison, but both deal with eccentric academics.

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English (39)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Nabokov must have had a lot of disdain for American academics. Actually, it seems he was disdainful of everyone involved in the insular world of humanities' departments in American universities and colleges, from ignorant undergraduate to dedicated, but inane graduate student, from lowly lecturer to chairs of departments. Not to say I didn't enjoy this book, because I did. After all, anyone who has every been in grad school in a literature and language department knows there is something quite ridiculous about the whole thing. Nabokov is an amazing writer, his way with language (not his own even!) is breathtaking, his metaphors are divine, his descriptions of the inner lives of his characters draw you in, but somehow, while I would have loved to listen in on a lecture by Nabokov, I wouldn't have wanted to be his student. Too heartless. But I am confusing Nabokov the man with the narrative voices of his novels. Incidentally, the paperback that I read had a cover illustration of the main character, Pnin, who looked suspiciously like Nabokov--but it is the 1st person/omniscient narrator who seems to be the 'mask' of Nabokov and is not only smarter, but kinder than the main character. I'm not assuming that Nabokov and the narrator are the same person, but there are hints the person narrating, who becomes part of the plot, is named Vladimir Vladimirovich, studies butterflies, is an Anglo-Russian scholar, etc., etc. Anyway, Pnin is a wonderful criticism/satire of Academia, especially those language/literature departments. ( )
  Marse | Nov 25, 2015 |
Very funny and yet so sad. ( )
  lee-mervin | Jun 7, 2015 |
A humorous and ultimately poignant tale of a Russian emigre academic struggling to come to terms with life in America. ( )
  bodachliath | Apr 22, 2015 |
Picked this up after hearing the first chapter on the New Yorker Fiction podcast. A nice character study. Pnin is just eccentric enough as an immigrant and a professor without being a caricature of either. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Mar 22, 2015 |
Perhaps it is foolish, but I like to ration out my Nabokovs: he’s written 18 novels (19 if you include the half-unfinished The Original of Laura). I read Ada at an impressionable age, and knowing, as children often do, that his prose would be a pleasure with limits, I decide to read the Nabokov canon slowly. I pick up one book every few years, and then devour it, satisfying myself with several re-reads. I finished Pale Fire (1962), and King, Queen, Knave (1928) and this year chose Pnin. Pnin was not entirely an accidentally choice; I’d already met the character Professor Timofey Pavlovich Pnin, in Pale Fire. What sealed the deal was the New Yorker podcast featuring Alexander Hemon introducing and discussing Pnin. He reads out the first chapter of the novel, and explains why it is that the loves the book, and Nabokov, so much. I was hooked.

Pnin, a short, absurd novel, is the story of Timofey Pavlovich Pnin, a minor assistant professor of Russian at the fictional college of Waindell. Pnin, morose, clumsy, full of half-fancies and sentimental notions, is a most unfortunate person. His entire life, as a Russian émigré in the United States, is so full of misadventures. After a particularly miserable episode involving a missed bus, the wrong train, misplaced lecture notes and an unhelpful baggage attendant, Pnin finally has a bout of good luck in getting a lift to his distant destination. The narrator, an unidentified voice who appears to know Pnin, is forced to confess that ideally, Pnin would meet with disaster en route to secure the integrity of the story, but Pnin reaches safely. This is possibly his only stroke of good luck.

Nabokov’s device of the narrator in this novel is fascinating. The novel begins in third person, until abruptly, the voice of the narrator is revealed as a character in the novel – someone who evidently knows Pnin. Hemon, in his comments, is asked by an editor at the New Yorker, about this – apparently it is intended to be Nabokov himself. Indeed, someone does refer to the narrator as Vladimir Vladimirovich during the novel. Through the novel’s chapters, as Pnin stumbles from vacation to work, from his estranged wife to his estranged sun to students and to sentimental memories of his Russian youth, we get no more indications of who the narrator is, until the last chapter, when the voice is entirely revealed. Pnin, who moves from being an entirely awkward professor, there at the behest of the kind head of the German department, transforms into someone who at the very least, is settled into university life. The novel ends, though, as Pnin’s adventures do, with him fleeing the university, driven out by the narrator (although I won’t tell you how).
Pnin is an intensely funny novel. True, it is sad as well, but for the most part, this is Nabokov’s deliciously cutting send-up of everything that concerns Russian émigrés and American universities. I can’t speak for the former, but when it comes to the latter, I can vouch for the fact that every hilarious, mocking episode concerning the politics of university appointments, the travails of researchers and graduate students and the dull faculty parties are all accurately, cruelly and amusingly reproduced. Zadie Smith attempted something like this in On Beauty, but Smith isn’t even a tenth of the writer Nabokov was, in my opinion. Take, for instance, Nabokov’s examples of outrageous grants gifted to scholars at the university: “Tristam W Thomas (“Tom” to his friends), Professor of Anthropology had obtained ten thousand dollars from the Mandeville Foundation for a study of the eating habits of Cuban fishermen and palm climbers…”.

Poor Pnin, left by his wife, fascinated by washing machines, reciting obscure Russian folk poetry to graduate students in entry-level Russian courses – I grew fond of Pnin, too soon. The book is full of charming little character sketches (one of the many things that I love about Nabokov) – for instance, “…I never cared much for Bolotov and his philosophical works, which so oddly combine the obscure and trite; the man’s achievement is perhaps a mountain but a mountain of platitudes; I have always liked, however, Varvara, the philospher’s exuberant buxom wife..” I know I’m a devoted Nabokov fan, so this is expected, but I give this work an unreserved recommendation. It’s funny, it’s well-written and it is by Nabokov, and of these three, the last alone ought to suffice!

Ps. On a purely facile note, I discovered through Hemon’s podcast that I’ve been pronouncing Nabokov’s name incorrectly all my life. He stresses the middle syllable, while I’ve been stressing the first. ( )
3 vote reva8 | Feb 5, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vladimir Nabokovprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bayer, A. E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthes, UrlichNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wood, MichaelAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimmer, Dieter E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The elderly passenger sitting on the north-window side of that inexorably moving railway coach, next to an empty seat and facing two empty ones, was none other than Professor Timofey Pnin.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679723412, Paperback)

Pnin is a professor of Russian at an American college who takes the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he cannot master. Pnin is a tireless lover who writes to his treacherous Liza: "A genius needs to keep so much in store, and thus cannot offer you the whole of himself as I do." Pnin is the focal point of subtle academic conspiracies he cannot begin to comprehend, yet he stages a faculty party to end all faculty parties forever.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Pnin is a professor of Russian at an American college who takes the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he cannot master. Pnin is a tireless lover who writes to his treacherous Liza: "A genius needs to keep so much in store, and thus cannot offer you the whole of himself as I do." Pnin is the focal point of subtle academic conspiracies he cannot begin to comprehend, yet he stages a faculty party to end all faculty parties forever.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141183756, 0141197129

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