Pnin - first edition cover, 1957
Pnin is the novel that most nearly reflects the life experiences of Nabokov: as an émigré from Russia living in Europe, an immigrant to America, and a professor at an upstate New York college. Pnin and Nabokov are both possessed by an intense nostalgia for the Russia and St Petersburg of their youth, and a revulsion for the totalitarian regime that followed.
Vladimir Nabokov, lepidopterist
The novel also allows Nabokov room to indulge some of his pet peeves, such as psychiatry (Pnin‘s first wife is a psychiatrist). He lampoons the ridiculous investigations that go by the name of research in academia. This novel belongs to the campus genre, but its unique feature is the character of Pnin. The reader will sympathise; Pnin is not a fool but a victim, partly of his own eccentricities and obsessions, and partly of the strange land in which nothing comports with prior expectation.
Thommo & Pamela
There is a rich vein of humour, accompanied by a quiet sadness, and relieved by an optimism nowhere revealed as well as when Pnin meets Victor, the son of his ex-wife. Pnin delicately welcomes him with a football. Without any obligation he is going to take care of Victor's pocket money at the expensive prep school.
Hemjith & KumKum
This novel which Nabokov wrote as a sequence of stories for the New Yorker magazine, beginning in 1953, became a successful English novel when published by Doubleday in 1957. He was writing Lolita during this time, and when that novel came out, Nabokov could give up his teaching at Cornell (aka Waindell) and retire to the Montreux Palace Hotel in Geneva to devote himself to writing, lepidoptery, and composing chess problems, for the rest of his life.
Hemjith & Shoba
There are many memorable quotes:
Some people – and I am one of them – hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam.
There is an old American saying ‘He who lives in a glass house should not try to kill two birds with one stone.’
Why not leave their private sorrows to people? Is sorrow not, one asks, the only thing in the world people really possess?
No jewels, save my eyes, do I own, but I have a rose which is even softer than my rosy lips.
The evolution of sense is, in a sense, the evolution of nonsense.
I do not understand what is advertisement and what is not advertisement.
Joe, Pamela, Priya, Thommo, Hemjith (seated) Sunil, KumKum, Shoba, Zakia