Vladimir Nabokov, Pnim

If you only know Nabokov through Lolita, then read this book. It doesn’t matter whether you liked Lolita or not (I disliked it and could never get past page 10), still, read this book.

Tomofey Pnim is a Russian emigre intellectual. He has been in America for many years and now teaches in an American college, but he still carries Russia in his heart. His Russia is the one before the Revolution and the need to flee the Bolsheviks. Pnim also carries the Russian language in his heart, forced now to deal with the insufficiencies of English. Looking for a literary parallel, he finds one.

Of course! Ophelia’s death! Hamlet! in good old Andrey Dronenberg’s Russian translation, 1844– the joy of Pnim’s youth, and of his father’s and grandfather’s young days!

Unfortunately he cannot check the passage in the book of his youth.

Alas, “GamletVil’yama Shekspira … was not represented in Waindell College Library, and whenever you were reduced to look up something in the English version, you never found this or that beautiful, noble, sonorous line that you remembered all your life from Kroneberg’s text in Bengerov’s spledndid edition. Sad!

Pnim begins as a character of fun, and his colleagues mock his mispronunciations and misapprehensions. Through a series of incidents and scenes, Nabokov leads us to the gentle and innocent man behind the clown. We meet the Pnim who tries, in vain, to befriend his almost-stepson, the one who planned to buy a house but then learned he had been fired, as well as the one too proud to work under the Nabokov he never acknowledged. Sad!

8 Responses to Vladimir Nabokov, Pnim

  1. […] Nabokov, Pnim. Timofey Pnim is a Russian emigre instructor at an American college. He is very, very funny, but […]

  2. I recently finished my first Nabokov, after not being able to finish Lolita. I do want to read all of Nabokov’s works based just on that book – I love his writing! Thanks for the review – will definitely read this sooner rather than later.

    • SilverSeason says:

      So that’s two of us that could not finish Lolita. What other Nabokov did you read? I really enjoyed Speak, Memory which is his memoir about growing up Russia and leaving at the time of the Revolution.

  3. SilverSeason says:

    You will have a real treat in Pnim, and Nabokov’s use of the English language is surely unsurpassed. I also enjoyed the nuances of American life and culture — especially the academic scene.

  4. Sarah says:

    I have read three Nabokov so far, each very different from the others. Thanks for this review: now I know which one I will read next :)

    For the record, I didn’t have a problem with Lolita, although it is by no means a comfortable read, and Humbert isn’t a pleasant companion, however you take him.

  5. goldnsilver says:

    Interesting that you hated Lolita. What did you hate about it?

    I really like Nabakov, though I have to agree with one critic, where he said something like ‘I can always hear the clicking of surgical tools in Nabakov’s work’, because of his preoccupation of planning every detail like a pre-ordained chess match.

    He seems like a very self involved person, but I can’t bash the beauty of his poetic descriptions.

    • SilverSeason says:

      I disliked the theme of Lolita, although if it has been presented differently I might have been able to read it. Mostly I was disgusted with the character of Humbert (?), not his sexual perversion but his smugness about ruining the lives of others.

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