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Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
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Pnin (original 1957; edition 2004)

by Vladimir Nabokov

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2,841382,048 (3.9)1 / 121
Member:zvs
Title:Pnin
Authors:Vladimir Nabokov
Info:Everyman's Library (2004), Hardcover, 184 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:russian, usa

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Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (1957)

  1. 01
    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 (35)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (38)
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There’s a term for this kind of literature. And I must confess, I had to go back to the Introduction to find it: ‘the campus novel’ is what it’s called. David Lodge, who wrote that Introduction, allows that “there are some austere readers…who consider it a trivial and introverted subgenre” (p. xiii) — and well it might be. But as most of the readers of Pnin will, I suspect, themselves have attended a comparable institution and spent a spring (or four )spread out on its shapely lawns or carousing in its comely quad, the notion of a ‘campus novel’ will not come as a rude shock or even as an unwelcome guest into an evening’s reminiscence upon those days of college lore.


That said, I must confess that this was not an easy work to read. There were many times when I wondered whether it was my lack of concentration, my inability to connect the dots, or simply my lack of intelligence. Don’t be dismayed if Pnin leaves you without a clue. Stylistically speaking, I assume that you’ll quite agree with me: Nabokov (properly pronounced naBOkuv, by the way) is sui generis. But where the integrity of this particular work is concerned, I’m at a loss.


And so, let’s instead take a look at Nabokov’s style.


The first paragraph of Chapter 3 gives us this delicious little characterization of the eponymous hero of our novel:

“During the eight years Pnin had taught at Waindell College he had changed his lodgings – for one reason or another, mainly sonic – about every semester. The accumulation of consecutive rooms in his memory now resembled those displays of grouped elbow chairs on show, and beds, and lamps, and inglenooks which, ignoring all space-time distinctions, commingle in the soft light of a furniture store beyond which it snows, and the dusk deepens, and nobody really loves anybody. The rooms of his Waindell period looked especially trim in comparison with one he had had in uptown New York, midway between Tsentral Park and Reeverside, on a block memorable for the wastepaper along the curb, the bright pat of dog dirt somebody had already slipped upon, and a tireless boy pitching a ball against the steps of the high brown porch; and even that room became positively dapper in Pnin’s mind (where a small ball still rebounded) when compared with the old, now dust-blurred lodgings of his long Central-European, Nansen-passport period” (p. 44).

Or — much later in the novel — say, at a point at which we might have a slight craving for an academic’s inside (and somewhat sardonic) observations on the animal instincts of other tillers (i.e., colleagues) in the fields of academe, we have the following:


"'He received a grant of ten thousand dollars,' said Joan to Betty, whose face dropped a curtsy as she made that special grimace consisting of a slow half-bow and tensing of chin and lower lip that automatically conveys, on the part of Bettys, a respectful, congratulatory, and slightly awed recognition of such grand things as dining with one's boss, being in Who's Who, or meeting a duchesse" (p. 115).


When I read the prose of Vladimir Nabokov, the word “gossamer” comes to mind. I don’t know why, but it does. The man had a deftness and dexterity with the language that few native speakers/writers possess — and this alone makes his work well worth reading.


RRB
4/16/14
Brooklyn, NY

( )
1 vote RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Enjoyed this, yet Nabakov's prose, however beautiful, can tend to be a bit acrobatic for me. A real work of art, though, as this is certainly not driven by plot. Just an endearing portrait of a kooky man.
Also, I catalogued this as Russian Literature. I know he wrote this in English while in America. Still. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Sep 1, 2014 |
Be sincere, love something, be alive! ( )
  Oskar_Matzerath | Aug 16, 2014 |
I loved this funny, touching, subtle, impressionistic short novel of the quintessential, yet unrepeatable emigre Russian college professor. I met many of Pnin's real-world epigones at Middlebury College summer language school, so I can attest that Nabokov's version both captures and transcends the type!

I could well relate to the hapless Pnin's [SPOILER, sort of:] professional demise at the end of the book. Nabokov makes it clear that, despite his often hilarious versions of English phrasing and pronunciation, Pnin knows his own language--as well as French--to perfection and is more a true scholar than any of the middlebrow Americans who surround him. Pnin's fine sensitivities are conveyed through trivial events that motivate weighty emotional recollections as, for example, a brief mention of his 1st love. All major events are presented obliquely, and so we discover in passing that Mira met an untimely end in a Nazi death camp.

The displacement of such past griefs in the new life of affluent, optimistic America is one of the book's fine achievements. Nothing is resolved as Pnin drives off into the sunset, having absorbed--we may believe, if we wish--his own measure of optimism. ( )
2 vote AnesaMiller | Mar 10, 2014 |
I finally found a boring Nabokov novel. ( )
  jhudsui | Feb 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vladimir Nabokovprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bayer, A. E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wood, Michaelsecondary 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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:04 -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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