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Vladimir Nabokov: Bend Sinister

This was Nabokov’s bash the totalitarian dictator novel, owing more, perhaps to, Zamyatin than to Orwell, not least because 1984 was still two years away. The story is relatively straightforward. Adam Krug is a world-famous philosopher who lives in a Soviet-style police state, headed by Paduk. Krug and Paduk were at school together, where Krug bullied Paduk and nicknamed him The Toad. Paduk is now trying to persuade Krug to endorse the regime, to help give it legitimacy. Krug, who at the start of the novel, has just lost his wife, is not interested and refuses. While he sees others coerced, tortured and killed, he feels that he is immune. He is urged to leave but feels that his fame will protect him. Paduk tries to seduce him with women and then persuade him by imprisoning one of his friends. It is to no avail. Only when they take his son, David, do they succeed in coercing him. He gives in but it is too late. David has been killed by mistake. Krug goes mad, tries to kill Paduk and is, in turn, killed. This is not, of course, a fun novel and is different from many of his others but one he had to write. It compares well with the other famous anti-Utopian, police state novels and is well worth reading.

Publishing history

First published 1947 by Henry Holt