NABOKV-L post 0008893, Mon, 10 Nov 2003 19:28:28 -0800

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Dmitri Nabokov Interview in the Spanish journal "Joyce"
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----- Original Message -----

-----Original Message-----
From: Dmitri Nabokov
Sent: dimanche, 12. octobre 2003 16:21




How much does the family name Nabokov weigh? Is it a privilege or a responsibility?

If one counts the immediate family only, 902 kg: 102 kg for me and 800 kg for my father's statue, which stands happily in the park of the Montreux-Palace, where he and my mother lived for many years. The name also weighs heavily if one considers the responsibilities and challenges that come with it. At the same time, it is a privilege and a source of pride. I do my best to safeguard my father's memory and his art. But I am reasonably sure that, even if I did not dwell on the inevitable misprints, mistranslations and misconceptions, or battle with Russian pirates and detractors, Vladimir Nabokov's place would remain unchanged in the literary pantheon.

You were born in Paris, but moved to the USA when you were just a kid. Do you feel Russian, American or from anywhere else?

I was born in Berlin. We moved to Paris. Thanks to friends, we were able to sail from St.Nazaire for New York on the penultimate, rather than the final, voyage of the Champlain, which was a good thing, because one of the sparse bombs that fell on Paris during the Second World War destroyed our apartment building, and also because, on the following crossing, the ship was sunk with all aboard by a German submarine. My family life was so happy and so complete that I learned not to need any other roots. I am more content in microcosms than macrocosms, and microcosms can exist in many places. The slight distance I perceive between myself and my surroundings is beneficial, inasmuch as it offers a welcome sense of perspective.

When your father died, he left a book, "The Original of Laura", unfinished. He wanted it to be destroyed, but neither you nor your mother Vera dared do it. What happened to the manuscript?

The Original of Laura reposes in a bank vault. I have attentively examined the index cards on which it is written. In many cases, I have deciphered the script or the sense of difficult passages. In some cases, I have been stumped. A transcript of the book, as coherent as it has been possible to make given its unfinished state, is stored together with the original of the Original. The fate of the handwritten cards, and especially of the text itself, is a thorny question that must be pondered further.

A father like Vladimir Nabokov, a writer, with a passion for butterflies, chess-player and with a nomad-like life, ought to be fascinating. How was he as a father?

I don't know of any other fathers "like" Vladimir Nabokov. It is true that he was uniquely fascinating, not simply because of his varied life, but because he knew how to "caress the details" of every facet of that life. He was fascinating to me personally because he made me feel like a participant in his passions.

Lolita was a huge success all over the world. Did it involve a great change in your family life?

The success of Lolita allowed the Nabokovs to recapture a fraction of their former wealth. But the tangible aspect was certainly not the principal one: the freedom from a regular teaching job, even at a university he loved as much as Cornell, gave Nabokov the opportunity to live, write and collect butterflies wherever he pleased.

I have heard you talk about your "little sister Lo". Do you really consider Dolores Haze as your little sister?

Are you being serious? Dolores Haze was my "little sister" only in the following sense: my father sometimes used me as a source for the juvenile slang that was to issue from Lolita's lips, and occasionally borrowed for her use favorite expressions of mine. Here and there -- on a tennis court, for instance -- other refractions of me may be perceived.

Where did your father get his deep knowledge about women seduction weapons from?

Do you mean seduction by women or seduction of women? If we are speaking of his pre-marital years, I guess the answer in either case would be "practice (and imagination) makes perfect".

Your grandfather, Vladimir Dmitrievich, lawsman and politician, was assassinated in Berlin in 1922. How did that tragedy influence your father?

The death of his father, the cancellation of his idyllic childhood, and the loss of his language as a creative instrument were the three principal tragedies of his life. And the word "God" disappeared from the vocabulary of his poetry from that fatal day on.

Your father says in "Speak, memory" that nostalgie, that affected him for such a long time, was related to the consciousness of a lost childhood. Could you tell me something about your childhood?

Even though my childhood was set in vastly reduced material circumstances, my parents were able to envelop me in the same cocoon of love and enchantment that they had enjoyed in their Russian childhood.

Your father was born in a wealthy family, but later on he had to teach tennis, English, even make up crosswords for a Russian newspaper from 1922 to 1937 to survive. He was born in Russia and lived in Germany, France, USA and Switzerland. He was a survivor, a citizen of the world. Do you share any of these features with him?

I am a survivor in a somewhat different sense. It is true that opera performances, mountain climbing, automobile and offshore races, and lecturing engagements have caused me to travel far and wide. And I did take various part-time jobs to pay for my hobbies and my girlfriends when I was a Harvard student -- including tennis and running with a half-boxer, half-great Dane named Pedro. While my parents indulged me in the material sense as well as the emotional, my passions often tended toward the dangerous. I have narrowly escaped a lightning strike while mountain climbing; suffered severe burns, a moment of clinical death, and a year in the hospital, after unknown individuals sabotaged my car; and survived a lengthy injury-related illness that could well have finished me off.

Opera singer and racing driver are two different exquisite careers. What did you enjoy most: the stage or the race track?

Opera and racing are not a combination that I would generally recommend. My case was special -- in a sense my racing helped my singing. During a period of discouragement when, in spite of having made successful debuts in Milan, and in Reggio Emilia with Luciano Pavarotti, I felt that I could do better, but was unable to find the right teacher, I decided to indulge temporarily an ardent desire that I had nurtured since early childhood: auto racing. The day before an important race, I had tested my car at the Monza race track. It seemed simpler, rather than taking it back to my mechanic's garage, to leave it for the night in the courtyard of a tenor friend who lived near the Autodromo. The following morning, my friend kept the gate locked, announcing that my racing days were over and that henceforth I would seriously pursue my singing career under his guidance. That happy moment led to years of joy on the stage, among the high points of which were the Gran Teatro del Liceo and performances with such wonderful Spanish colleagues as Montserrat Caballé and Jaime Aragall. Mountain cliff, opera stage and race track offer the same thrill: there is no room for error.

And what did you fear most?

Forgetting the words of an opera.

Which is your father's favorite book?

I think you mean "which book of your father's is your favorite?" The easy answer would be "whichever one I am reading or working on at any given moment." In the absolute sense, however, I would say Pale Fire.

"Our existence is just a short-circuit of light between two eternities of darkness", said your father. What is your meaning of life?

You misquote my father: in the English original, at least, he said not "a short-circuit of light" but "a crack of light" (a translator may have imagined a miniature lightning strike instead of an illumined fissure). My father thoroughly distrusted electricity and even invented a hydraulic telephone for his novel Ada. I suppose the meaning of life for me -- even if I don't always follow my own precepts -- is to concentrate my efforts on what I consider most important and most beautiful, with an occasional seasoning of adventure. I would also like to be remembered with some affection when I disappear into what I hope will not be utter darkness.

Can you tell me the most beautiful memory of Vladimir and Vera?

The way my parents look at each other in my favorite photograph of them. It expresses more than words ever could.

How is your timetable in an ordinary day?

Very seldom is a day ordinary. If it is not interrupted by the cymbal-clash of a surprise event, it may remain colored by the iridescence of a special dream.

Your father told Bernard Pivot that his life was a bibliography more than a biography. What does your life look like?

One small shelf of that bibliography.

Can you tell me some anecdote or funny fact related to your family name Nabokov?

A family legend, very possibly apocryphal, traces our name back to Nabok Mur za, an associate, and perhaps a relative, of Genghis Khan, in the days when " nabok " meant "potentate." When I was performing the basso role of Zaccaria in Verdi's opera Nabucco, based on the Biblical Nebuchadnezzar, my colleagues jokingly called me "Nabucco" , unaware that my name presumably derived from the same linguistic source as that of the Babylonian king.

And finally, Mr. Nabokov, which is the formula for happiness for you?

w + t + f = H, where "w" stands for being worthy of my parents, "t" denotes leaving behind a worthwhile trace that may give others what my father called "the dorsal tingle" of enjoyment, "f" represents freedom to enjoy my own life as I see fit, and the big H is happiness.

Copyright (c) 2003 by Dmitri Nabokov