cover image The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov. Alfred A. Knopf, $40 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58615-1

The exiled Russian master began writing short stories while he was still at Cambridge University and, in his subsequent years of residence in Berlin and Paris during the 1920s and '30s, continued to publish them frequently, writing in Russian, French and, later, English. Most of the 65 stories gathered here appeared in a 1958 Doubleday collection, Nabokov's Dozen, or in three McGraw-Hill volumes in the 1970s, Details of a Sunset, Tyrants Destroyed and A Russian Beauty. The 13 stories appearing between hard covers here for the first time--finely translated, like many of the others, by Nabokov's son Dmitri--break no new ground, although one includes an original ending dropped from its first printing. They are mostly brief: fanciful, often enigmatic sketches of exiles or glimpses of life in old Russia accented by the familiar Nabokovian dexterity and wordplay. They show his brilliant eye for atmospheric color, his ability to catch fleeting shades of mood, but they are also mostly cool to the point of chill. One feels grateful that, in his later American sojourn, he abandoned the story form and began to write the novels and memoirs that made him deservedly famous. For it takes time to become acclimatized to Nabokov's world, to adjust to his peculiar angle of vision, to get comfortable with his rhythms; and to read him in the hasty doses served up by short stories emphasizes his capacity for brilliant inconsequentiality rather than the richness of heart and mind revealed in his longer works. (Oct.)