Monday, July 10, 2017

Vladimir Nabokov – Pnin, July 7, 2017

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Romantic Poets Session – Jun 15, 2017

It was a record attendance – all but one of our readers attended and we had a lovely guest, retired professor of English from St. Teresa's College, Betty Kuriyan.

Shoba, Betty, KumKum

We all enjoyed the occasion, which was celebrated with sandwiches and cakes with tea and coffee. Our special thanks go to KumKum who proposed the happy idea of a session of poetry devoted to the English Romantic poets. She then followed up with the readers to ensure attendance. Kudos to her; and to Priya for arranging the splendid refreshments.

Saras (back) Hemjith, Kavita, Shoba, Betty, Joe, KumKum, Zakia

Although Thommo and Ankush were recovering from medical issues, both participated with abandon.

Saras, Hemjith

In our family I am allowed to decide whether Keats or Shelley is the greater poet, but there is no evidence from this session for a conclusion either way. Other contenders among the Romantics seem equally eligible. What a marvellous group of poets to have arrived in one place within a generation and elevated poetry to Himalayan heights!

Priya, Saras, Hemjith, Kavita

This time Sunil was missing; his absence has a generally downhill influence on the gathering for lack of wisecracks and laughter. As we are reading a humorous novella next time (Pnin) his attendance is a must if we are to derive the full experience.

Betty, KumKum, Zakia

Zakia, who came but did not read, is missing from the group picture below.

Ankush, Saras, Thommo, Priya, KumKum, Shoba, Pamela, Betty Kavita, Preeti, Hemjith (seated)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Paul Beatty — The Sellout May 24, 2017

The cover of the novel depicts Diogenes of Sinope, the Greek philosopher who allegedly carried around a lit lantern in broad daylight, saying he was “looking for an honest man”. But the Diogenes shown here is black, jauntily clad in pink shirt and white trousers.

The reading was poorly attended and a couple of readers had not managed to read the novel. Nevertheless with a bit of urging they too read from passages others had selected.

Paul Beatty - ‘I wanted to be a psychologist. It taught me how to look underneath the rock’

There's a lot of drollery and sheer extravagance in the use of language, sprinkled plentifully with mother-fuckers, bitches and psychology jargon. The characters are often denizens of the absurd: Hominy Jenkins who volunteers as slave to the narrator (‘Me’) and calls him Massa in the manner of a pre-Reconstruction era slave; a punk pretender called Foy Cheshire who lives by publishing the ideas of Me's father and heads the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals. And Marpessa the attractive bus-driver Me yearns for, who seems unattainable.


Me goes about his life work of
a) Re-creating the erased town of agrarian Dickens in LA County, the largest and most diverse county in USA whose population of 10m is larger than that of 42 states; and
b) Re-segregating its society so people may regain a sense of community, identity and self-worth.


Miraculously he succeeds in both ventures, and the rejuvenated Dickens scores higher on measures of social and educational progress than it ever had before. However, he runs foul of the Civil Rights Act and ends up facing judgement in the Supreme Court of the United Staes, refighting the ‘separate-but-equal’ battles of the 1960s.

KumKum & Joe

Though Me wins Marpessa by novel's end, since the case is unresolved, there's scope for a even crazier sequel.

Almond Nougat

Here we are at the end of the reading after consuming the sweet almond nougat Hemjit brought along:

Joe, Thommo, Sunil, Preeti (back row) KumKum, Hemjit (sitting)