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Pnin (1957)

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Tim's Test Series

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,778722,463 (3.9)1 / 190
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)
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    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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» See also 190 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
Having only read [Lolita], my perspective on Nabokov was narrow. I thought of him as a difficult author to read, with dark humor (if any). Then I read [Pnin], and my impression did a 180.

Everyone at the small college where Timofey Pnin teaches thinks he is a ridiculous figure with his humorous language faux pas and bumbling ways. In the era of McCarthy, teaching Russian is as low on the academic spectrum as it is possible to go, and neither his colleagues or his few students respect him. Pnin stumbles through life with bemused good humor, and it is only when he is with his fellow Russian emigre compatriots that we see the well-spoken, confident intellectual that lies below the surface.

[Pnin] is a story of estrangement and belonging, assimilation and cultural difference, good-humored self-deprecation and simmering anger. It′s also a story within a story. There is an unnamed narrator telling Pnin′s story, and at the end of the novel, the motives of this narrator are called into question, and the reader is left wondering if this really is Pnin′s story after all.

Metafiction creates a tension between the protagonist and the writer. In most novels, there is a lulling sense that the protagonists true self is being revealed, but in metafiction this is disrupted. We are constantly being reminded that we are reading fiction, fiction created by a biased author, even when the author is claiming to be reciting the facts.

Some people—and I am one of them—hate happy ends. We fell cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically. Had I been reading about this mild old man, instead of writing about him, I would have preferred him to discover, upon his arrival in Cremona, that his lecture was not this Friday but the next. Actually, however, he not only arrived safely but was in time for dinner—a fruit cocktail, to begin with, mint jelly with the anonymous meat course, chocolate syrup with the vanilla ice cream.

By professing to tell the truth, rather than his own inclinations, and following that with an account of a mundane act too detailed not to be true, the reliability of the narrator is made more questionable, not less. The writer doth protest too much, methinks. But Nabokov handles this tension playfully and hides how much of himself is reflected. Certainly he, like both the narrator and Pnin, was a Russian emigre educated in Paris and a professor at small colleges in the United States. Is one aspect of Nabokov′s ego poking fun at another aspect?

On the surface, however, [Pnin] is a delightful romp with delicious descriptions and laugh-out-loud humor.

...Judith Clyde, an ageless blond in aqua rayon, with large, flat cheeks stained a beautiful candy pink and two bright eyes basking in blue lunacy behind a rimless pince-nez, presented the speaker…

Marriage hardly changed their manner of life except that she moved into Pnin's dingy apartment. He went on with his Slavic studies, she with her psychodramatics and her lyrical ovipositing, laying all over the place like an Easter rabbit, and in those green and mauve poems—about the child she wanted to bear, and the lovers she wanted to have, and St. Petersburg (courtesy of Anna Akhmatov)—every intonation, every image, every simile had been used before by other rhyming rabbits.

Blue lunacy and rhyming rabbits, I love it. ( )
1 vote labfs39 | Jul 4, 2021 |
25. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1957
format: 185-page paperback
acquired: May
read: Jun 12-14
time reading: 5:31, 1.8 mpp
rating: 4½
locations: fictionalized upstate New York college
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

Apparently this is the book that actually got Nabokov his first widespread recognition. While [Lolita] went through the throws of publisher and author nervousness, Nabokov began to write stories about Pnin, his endearing Russian immigrant. Timofey Pavlovich Pnin is a clueless hopeless comical being caught inside his own head, with intellectual elegance among the pinnacles of Russian scholarship. He is lost in America, handicapped with a bald head, a failed marriage, a permanent butchered-but-charming English, and an unpronounceable name. (Rough pronunciation is Tim-uh-fee Pavlovich P-Neen - a "preposterous little explosion" in English.)

Pnin was a cathartic project for Nabokov after spending so much time in the pedophile head of Humbert Humbert. He needed some good and started writing charming Pnin stories, and the New Yorker started publishing them. What eventually came out in this novel is an endearing tragic figure, beautiful to the reader in a way no one around him can appreciate. He's enjoys his scholarly bliss unappreciated and it creates a repetition of charmed tragic tangible loneliness. I adored him.

As a story, we watch Pnin stumble through as a professor of unpopular enemy Russian in a small-ish American college, where it reaches a handful of students at introductory level Russian. He pushes literally elements as he can, but it's all well beyond his students. Nabokov gives us a moment where Pnin spends time with Russian émigré scholars in America, where his language is pristine and he effortlessly provides us a brief interesting analysis of the structure of [Anna Karenina], and where Pnin is social, and can feel, and reach moving depths of emotion at his own history. We also get a mockery of academic life, based on Nabokov's own experiences.

The novel [Pnin] was published in America before [Lolita] and caught some positive critical attention, and some significant sales. It's the book that finally got Nabokov some attention and onto the literary map. It's probably a nice introduction to Nabokov, for anyone interested.

2021
https://www.librarything.com/topic/330945#7539871 ( )
3 vote dchaikin | Jun 26, 2021 |
Once you get used to run-on sentences that have such avid descriptions you forget what the initial object/topic was in the first place, this is a beautiful book that can only tug on your heart. Poor, poor Pnin. ( )
  Arafyn | Jun 9, 2021 |
A remarkably sweet book,. along with Lolita, my favorite. Based on VNs years teaching at Wellsley and Cornell. ( )
  RODNEYP | May 19, 2021 |
An episodic but enjoyable novel. The titular absent-minded professor is delightful. ( )
  irrelephant | Feb 21, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vladimir Nabokovprimary authorall editionscalculated
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.
Quotations
Pnin had nothing against Miss Bliss. In trying to visualize a serene senility, he saw her with passable clarity bringing him his lap robe or refilling his fountain pen.
Marriage hardly changed their manner of life except that she moved into Pnin's dingy apartment. He went on with his Slavic studies, she with her psychodramatics and her lyrical ovipositing, laying all over the place like an Easter rabbit, and in those green and mauve poems—about the child she wanted to bear, and the lovers she wanted to have, and St. Petersburg (courtesy of Anna Akhmatov)—every intonation, every image, every simile had been used before by other rhyming rabbits.
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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.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141183756, 0141197129

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