“Pnin slowly walked under solemn pines. The sky was dying. He did not believe in an autocratic God. He did believe, dimly, in a democracy of ghosts. The souls of the dead, perhaps, formed committees, and these, in continuous session, attended the destinies of the quick.”
Enchanted by Lolita, I decided to further study the Russian-born English virtuoso ,Vladimir Nabokov, by reading his other notable work, Pnin. Usually when I embark on the journey of a “new” author, I go to the library for the book as kind economical safe bet. If I enjoy the book enough, I then contribute to the author by purchasing another work of theirs. Seeing Pnin just as I was about to leave a bookstore, I decided to continue to further my knowledge on the Russian wordsmith.
Pnin tells the story of Cornell professor Timofey Pnin and the difficulties of being a Russian emigre in 50’s America. Leaving the Soviet state and the “Hitler War”, Pnin settles down in a Northeastern college that embodies atypical American life. Confused, yet intrigued, the professor’s friends, family, and colleagues are never committed to a solid opinion of Pnin. Filled with episodic adventures, the truly Nabokovian novel focuses on the mundanity of relationships, time and current events.
Obviously a reflection on his trials and tribulations in the Western country, the novel was released in installments in The New Yorker to generate income while Nabokov traveled throughout the U.S. in search of a publisher for Lolita. Sadly, unlike the hilarious observations that were so insightful in Lolita, Pnin produces an eerie American still life through his Eastern microscope. During a discussion with my college professor, he admitted that this particular viewpoint was what he enjoyed most about the novel.
So does Nabokov’s Pnin still hold up in the modern culture? Weaved together with loose moral do’s and don’ts, the novel begs the reader to decide how they feel about the seemingly depressed, accident prone professor. Though for most readers, I believe the problem will come with the overhaul of Russian literary culture. Complete with a beach side walk reflection, the slow philosophical thoughts of Pnin and unfulfilled character arcs may cause the reader to throw the book at a wall. Personally, I’m glad to have read Pnin, but after only reading one of his novels beforehand, would only suggest the book to a more than average reader of the writer.