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Thursday, January 07, 2016

Pnin (1957) by Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov...never won the Novel Prize for Literature. Astonishing!
Book Review
Pnin (1957)
 by Vladimir Nabokov

  It tells you something about critics and criticism that both Boris Pasternak (1958) and Mikhail Sholokov (1965) won the Nobel Prize for Literature and Vladimir Nabokov did not.   To me, it's an appalling oversight, but perhaps understandable when one considers the sheer level of diversity that tends to be the only rule for the Nobel Prize for Literature committee.   One would think that there would be more American based English language novelist in and among the winners, but you would be wrong.  Saul Bellow won, Toni Morrison won, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck(?!?), Sinclair Lewis.... no American novelist has won the Nobel Prize for Literature since Toni Morrison.

  Pnin was the novel Nabokov wrote after Lolita, and it did a great deal to secure his financial situation and remove the idea that he might somehow be a one hit wonder.  Although it's not fair to Nabokov to dismiss Pnin as a "campus novel" the reader is faced with the essential fact that almost the entire book takes place within the confines of a small Northeastern liberal arts college where Timofey Pavolich Pnin is a non-tenured professor of Russian.

  The most striking feature of Pnin is that while the book is almost entirely about Pnin and his life on this college campus, the narrator is a different person, also a Russian emigre teaching at the same college as a tenured professor.   The exact relationship between the two people- Pnin and the un-named narrator, is hinted at by other characters but never addressed directly until the end of the book when "all is made clear."

  This give Pnin something of the taste of a mystery novel in the end, and it is this introduction of a "twist" ending that no doubt accounted for it's popularity with a general American reading Audience in the late 1950s.

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