Vladimir Nabokov

Rakhimova-Sommers, Elena. The 'Olgalized' Otherworld of Bend Sinister. 1999

Bibliographic title
The 'Olgalized' Otherworld of Bend Sinister
Periodical or collection
Russian Studies in Literature
Periodical issue
v. 35, no. 4
Publication year
Completed in May 1946, Bend Sinister is the first novel Nabokov wrote in America "half a dozen years after she and [he] had adopted each other."1 The novel is set in an imaginary European country, the languages of which include German, Russian (used by some of the characters during the most emotionally intense moments), and an invented combination of the two. The country has recently been shaken by a communist-like revolution, installing the dictatorship of Paduk and his Party of the Average Man, the theoretic platform of which is a blend of "Lenin's speeches, and a chunk of the Soviet constitution, and gobs of Nazist pseudo-efficiency" (164). The narration is carried out by the author-persona, whom Nabokov calls "an anthropomorphic deity impersonated by me" (169). The central characters of the novel are Adam Krug, a philosopher of international prominence, his wife Olga (who dies from an unsuccessful operation of the kidney before the novel opens), and their eight-year-old son David. Being the country's only internationally known intellectual, Krug is under immense government pressure to support the new regime, something he refuses to do. Believing to be above the powers of Paduk, Krug ignores the tightening of the ring around him—the arrests and disappearance of his closest friends. Only after his son David is taken away does Krug agree to comply with the regime, on condition that the child is returned to him unharmed. However, because of a mistake, David ends up sadistically murdered during one of the state's experimental psychiatric sessions. Using his last trump card, Paduk threatens to execute twenty-four relatives, friends, and colleagues of Krug if the former does not surrender. But Paduk does not foresee a sudden trick on the author's part, by which Krug is made to lose his mind. "His author-induced madness takes the form of the realization that he and his world are merely the inconsequential creations of the author who is shaping the narrative" (Johnson 1985, 188).