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Vladimir Nabokov: Pnin

This has been called Nabokov’s most charming novel. It has also been called a series of sketches, though Nabokov himself specifically denied this. It tells the story of a Russian émigré professor, Timofey Pnin, who lives in the US and teaches at Waindell College. Clearly it is based, at least in part, on Nabokov’s experiences at Cornell. Pnin is essentially a very decent human being but seems to fall into many of the traps that foreigners in a strange country fall into. At the beginning of the novel, for example, we see him on the way to talk to a women’s club. Unfortunately, he is both on the wrong train and has the wrong notes with him. We can’t help sympathising with poor Pnin, as his colleagues make fun of him, as he is unable to cope with the politics of Waindell, as his wife, Liza, exploits him again and again and as he always, somehow, manages to do the wrong thing. But Pnin is a man of ethics, he is decent and likeable and, when he leaves at the end, we are all rooting for him.

Publishing history

First published 1957 by Doubleday