Donald Rayfield

Strolls with Vladimir

Imagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics

By

Yale University Press 233pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

This book, or rather series of quotations interspersed with random thoughts, will occasionally enchant, frequently infuriate and constantly puzzle the reader. It imagines Nabokov rather as one of Nabokov’s heroes, Godunov-Cherdyntsev in The Gift, imagines a much-loved collocutor, and talks to him, often leaving us unsure whether this is Nabokov alive or dead, or whether the answers are real or voices in the author’s head. What sustains the writing is a passionate love of Nabokov (although it focuses on only a few of his works) and of two other great Russian writers: Osip Mandelshtam, who is just as frequently quoted, but less appositely, and Andrei Sinyavsky (known by his pseudonym Abram Tertz), whose iconoclastic Strolls with Pushkin these imaginings are modelled on. The quotations work as an anthology which leads us back to the texts; the author’s reflections, when not just a tribute to the her subjects’ heroism (or, in the case of Nabokov, lucky life), seem to centre on the experience of exile for a Russian and on the profound differences between Western and Russian culture. On the latter subject Nina Khrushcheva goes back to the Russian philosopher Khomiakov, taking the hoary old chestnut of irreconcilable cultural and religious differences and grinding it into a purée.

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