Saturday, July 14, 2007

Nabokov = Genius

So today at work, Sean comes up to me…. OK, backtrack.
First of all, Sean is this guy I work with and he is the only person in my entire workplace that actually reads.
And by “actually reads” I don’t mean actually CAN read [a few others there, “can” read…… I think]… but I mean he DOES read. And he reads good stuff.
Like he just finished reading some Henry Miller. He reads Hemingway. He recently got through Joyce’s Ulysses. [← A feat I have yet to attempt.]
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
He reads good stuff. And he’s only 22 years old. Horridly, I am twice his age.
Chronologically speaking, I could be Sean’s dad!
[Thankfully though, recent DNA testing has proved the foregoing sentence an impossibility!]
Now Sean is reading Nabokov’s Lolita, a book I read a couple of years ago.
So today at work he comes up to me and says something about how wild it is that Nabokov is writing in English.
I paused.
And you know what?
It is remarkable!
Nabokov, I mean.

How can someone write so well in a language that is not his first language?
I am looking at my copy of Lolita and sure enough [I knew this beforehand but still looked, to be sure]… there is no “Translated by _____” in the frontispiece of Lolita.

So, with just the slightest amount of research I find that Vladimir Nabokov wrote his first literary works in his native language [Russian] but rose to international prominence as a masterly prose English stylist for the novels he composed in the United States.
Get this His family spoke Russian, English and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age. In fact, much to his father's patriotic chagrin, Nabokov could read and write English before he could Russian.
So, I hate him.
No, but seriously, how can he be so brilliant?
It’s not fair.

What I mean is, I consider myself to be fairly intelligent, as compared to other things on two legs and all, but, my native [and only] language is English, and I CAN’T WRITE IN THAT LANGUAGE, AS GOOD AS THIS GUY!
Lolita is a masterpiece of the ENGLISH language!
So I hate Vladimir Nabokov…. starting right now.
No….. now.

I want to run out onto my balcony and bang my head on it!
[See, even that sentence could have been written more betterer!]
No. I want to run out and date a fourteen-year old girl!
[Can I even say that on the internet?]

Now watch!
My PG rating is going to go Triple XXX!



Dorothy W. said...

Nabokov IS amazing, isn't he? I'm jealous too of people who can speak and read and write multiple languages.

Beth said...

Ah, jealousy rears its ugly head!

As for your lecherous remark (you dirty old man) in case they miss it, I'm considering reporting you to the Internet/Blogger police.

Be afraid...

Merisi said...

Meet Andreï Makine, a Russian-born writer, who writes in French, even though he did not emigrate to France til he was 30 years of age. In 1995, after only a dozen years of living in France, his first truly successful novel, "Le testament français", won Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis plus the Goncourt des Lycéens. You must imagine the irony of winning the Prix Goncourt, which is given for French novels, after he had not been able to find a publisher for his original French manuscipt! He had had to resort to translate it into Russian and present his own French version as a translation!
If you have not read him, the English translations are excellent, and while I liked all of his books, I do have two or three favorites.

cipriano said...

Very interesting, Merisi. I must say I have not heard of this Andrei Makine fellow!

Beth, please don't turn me in. I recant my Humbertism!

Dorothy. It is true, I envy those that can zip in and out of a language. I live in an officially bilingual city [French-English] and my own French is stuck at "omelette au fromage"..... which doesn't get me very far!

Isabella said...

Don't forget Joseph Conrad (though, personally, I never developed a taste for him).

cipriano said...

Isabella.... yes, Conrad, wasn't he Polish, writing in English?
Another genius.
I loved his book Victory, but for some reason, I didn't like Heart of Darkness as much as I think I was supposed to.

Merisi said...

Cipriano, you should give Makine a try.:-)
My favorites are:
Once Upon the River Love (I discovered Makine thanks to the pink and red of this first hardcover edition *g*),
Music of a Life (if you want to invest little, try maybe this one first, you like Sebald, you should like this),
A Hero's Daughter (a history of the Soviet Union through the life of one of it's heroes, in a nutshell).
I shall forever regret not having bough that first hardcover edition of "Once Upon", I read a copy from the library. Then I missed another opportunity of buying the first edition of "Music of a Life" (with a beautiful painting of birches), by actually forgetting it in a second hand shop. Oh, the stories of the books I should have bought .... ;-)

cipriano said...

Thank you for these linked recommendations, Merisi.
And yes, I LOVE Sebald!
So, I would like this stuff, you say?

Merisi said...

I would dare say you should give him a try, and if my experience counts anything, I would really start with one of the three I mentioned.

I try to remember if you have read Antonio Tabucchi, I would say he is the closest the Italians have to a Sebald, really at the same level, and the English Translations of his works, as far as I have read them, are excellent. He's, btw, more than fluent in Portuguese, infact has written "Requiem" in that language and somebody else translated it into his native Italian. He's language is more poetic than Sebald, imo. He translated Antonio Lobo Antunes into Italian, and Pessoa. So he fits also into the "authors with language skills" category. I have read most of his books.

Have you read LOBO ANTUNES, btw? :-)

stefanie said...

I am jealous of people who are brilliant in multiple languages when I have difficulty being mediocre in one. I was going to mention Conrad but Isabella beat me to it. You got it right, he is Polish but wrote in English.

Peggy said...

The world is a big place and there are a lot of people in it. Especially if we include the dead ones. Comparing yourself to giants is no way to go through life!

I love Nabokov too. To my mind, he's the most perfect prose stylist I've read. But for sheer awesomeness and delight, for books I hoped would never end, I'll take Anna Karenina and The Magic Mountain.