Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001338, Fri, 4 Oct 1996 09:19:30 -0700

Nabokov in South Africa
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EDITOR'S NOTE. The author of the following note, Matthew White
<iona@is.co.za> provides an interesting sketch of VN in southern Africa.

Thanks for your welcoming note. I have been interested in VN and his writings
since first reading Lolita in 1961 or 62. I was living in Zimbabwe (then
called Rhodesia), where the book was banned, so there were few people with
whom to discuss it. I have subsequently read most of VN's criticism, essays
and stories, and all his novels published in English, except Bend Sinister,
which I have started at least five times and never managed to finish. I find
the book disturbing in the same way as Invitation to a Beheading and The
Defence, but unlike them, unrelievedly oppressive. No doubt I have missed
something. His other novels - particularly Lolita, Pale Fire and The Defence -
and also Speak Memory, Spring in Fialta and other stories, I have read many
times, almost invariably discovering some previously unappreciated delectation
in the rich texture of his writing. It is this which keeps me looking for
other insights into his world and art.

I regret that I don't expect to make much of a contribution to NABOKV-L as I
doubt I have any original personal insight worth sharing, though I may
discover something as I read the contributions of others. My sole essay on VN
was a literary leader (quaint term) published in the Cape Times (the oldest of
the three daily newspapers in Cape Town, South Africa) to mark his death. I
now live near Johannesburg, SA, where I own a bookshop that trades in new,
out-of-print and collectable books. Sadly, there is hardly any interest in VN
here outside the universities. My file of customers' book "wants" numbers in
the thousands and there is not a single work by or about him on the list,
other than those I am seeking for myself. The silver lining is that my
personal collection of "Nabokovia" has been acquired at a remarkably low cost.
My most recent purchase, for instance, was a UK first edition of Ada - a very
good copy in dust wrapper - bought from a fellow bookdealer for the equivalent
of US$1,85!

Thanks and regards.