Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002527, Thu, 30 Oct 1997 18:49:23 -0800

Matthew Stadler's Review of PNINIAD (fwd)
From _THE STRANGER, (a Seattle newspaper) Oct. 30, 1997.

Timofey Pnin, the sad comic hero of Vladimir Nabokov's blistering send-up
of American academia, PNIN, is based largely on a Russian emigre, Marc
Szeftel, who taught with Nabokov at Cornell, then came West to Seattle and
the UW. Szeftel's links to Nabokov and PNIN -- which came out just before
LOLITA burst upon the world -- have been excavated by Galya Diment (a
Slavic Languages Professor at the UW) in her book PNINIAD. This compact,
heavily researched book is both a charming biography of the sad,
perenially left-out Szeftel, and a treasure-trove of glimpses into the
fraught rituals of academia. We see the exams Nabokov set for his grad
[sic] students -- "what color was the bottle containing the arsenic with
which Emma Bovary poisoned herself?" -- observe him tag-team teaching with
faithful wife Vera, witness the rampant anti-semitism and sexism that kept
some academics (including Szeftel) on a slow climb towards a
glass-ceiling, and encounter some major academic conflicts (such as
Harvard professor Roman Jakobson's objection to Nabokov's bid for
chairmanship [sic] of the Russian Literature department -- "I do respect
very much the elephant, but would you give him the chair of zoology?).
Beyond offering a lively glimpse of this arcane subculture, PNINIAD gives
a first-rate reading of PNIN, plus some insight into the creative process
of the greatest English language writer of this century.

Matthew Stadler.