Book Review: Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (1953)

13558837._UY200_Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

The evening lessons were always the most difficult. Drained of ambulating the willing grey cells throughout the carnage of day classes, the young readers, almost resignedly, filled the quiet room at the end of the corridor. A subdued tête-à-tête, almost at once, broke into a charlatan laughter and the very next moment, died in their bosoms as Professor Pnin entered the classroom.

Straightening the meagre crop on his head and adjusting (and re-adjusting) his tortoise-shell glasses, he cleared his throat.

Pnin: Good Evening.

Class: Good Evening, Professor.

Pnin (cheerily): I am glad to see the attendance has brimmed to full today. [Pause] Alright then. Would all of you open your notes now? We shall take each one of your observations on Turgenev’s prose and discuss threadbare their meaning and implications on the Russian Literature fabric.

[Silence]

Pnin: Ladies and Gentlemen, please open your notes.

[Silence]

Pnin (in a mildly concerned tone): What is the matter? I can see your notes sitting pretty on your tables and yet you do not touch them? May I please be privy to your thoughts?

Josephine: Professor, we do have notes but they do not concern Turgenev’s prose.

Pnin: What do they concern then?

Josephine: You.

Pnin: Me?

Charles: Indeed Professor.

Pnin: But why?

Charles: Because that’s what is the homework we got – to analyse your publication on Turgenev’s prose, “Fathers and Sons – A Literary Bond”.

Pnin: No, no! I wanted you to read “Fathers and Sons” by Turgenev for analysis!

Eileen: Professor, you have given us the name of the wrong book then. Or perhaps we misunderstood your intentions.Again.

Pnin: What? But how is this…… (and his voice took a u-turn and trudged inside his mouth and jagged right into his head.)

Eileen (excitedly): But we have made some fascinating observations about you, Professor! You may like to hear them!

With the opportunity to assess the literary quotient of his class vanished like the hair on his head, he settled for the less worthy evaluation of their intelligence quotient.

Pnin (reluctantly): Very well then. You may show me the mirror, Miss Eileen.

Eileen: Actually, you began with the mission of dissecting Pushkin’s oeuvre but never got the book since you yourself had blocked it from issuing it to anyone else! I mean Professor Pnin had Pushkin allotted to himself in the system which he never got and could neither reallot it to Professor Pnin since it was always out of library!

Pnin: Yeees. It was an obscene revenge of the computer against my disdain for it.

Eileen (supressing laughter): And it happened often! But the university still kept you since it was fashionable to have atleast one distinguished fr*** on the staff.

Pnin: Fr*** ??

Josephine: Leave that, Professor! See, what I have found! Even your prodigal son, Victor, who delved in scholastic art from a tender age of four, could not decorate your limping English. Your reference to a noisy neighborhood as sonic disturbance , house-warming party as house-heating party , could pass, at best, as puerile. If your Russian was music, your English was murder!

Pnin: Why should I be a custodian of English when I know that Russian is a far superior language?

Charles: Perhaps because the former is more widely spoken?

Pnin: Ah, yes. (cheekily) My wife was good at it.

Charles: (competing cheekily) A little too good, may I add, Professor. She affirmed her proficiency by alluding an American Psychoanalyst in its lucid fold.

Pnin: Mr. Charles, you may refrain from making personal remarks.

Charles: Its YOUR publication we are taking about, Professor!

Pnin: I know, I know. Miss Josephine, do you have any more value additions?

Josephine: You went to great length to spread the sumptuous roots of Russian Literature; why, you took to Cremona on a wrong train! But your passionate erudition got you patient listeners and appreciative academicians.

Pnin: Thank you, Miss Josephine.

Josephine: You were also a strong and loving father to Victor as both of you, in abundance, were each other’s reflection – non-confirmists, impulsive, passionate and unrecognized scholars.

Pnin: Yes, I tried to be Victor’s shadow. He liked me, I think. Because I understood him. His artistic ebullience needed channelling into the right skies and I attempted to hold him aloft when he started stepping up.

Eileen: But you lost your link with Russian Literature, its prospective followers and your dear ones owing to your diminutive circle, subservient approach, vanilla judgement and ill-placed magnanimity.

Pnin (pensively): Yes, I have. But I haven’t lost my link with life. Yes, I have abandoned many parts of me; rather many parts of me have abandoned me like an ugly aberrant. But I believe there was some purpose in all of it. The purpose got clearer as the power of my spectacles increased; ironic as it may sound. Life is still like a long, beautiful Pushkin’s poem which I can read, once again, from the beginning and find new meaning in it. And if I ever struggle, I will have you good Samaritans to adjust my antennae.

Class (in unison): Yes Professor.

Pnin: Alright then. I thank you for spending precious time out and understanding my life..…

Charles (curtly): It was a homework, Professor.

Pnin: Ah yes. My apologies. Well, I will see you in three days then. Good night.

Class: Goodnight Professor.

1617345-vintage-still-life-small-wooden-clock-standing-on-old-book-on-background-with-books-and-spectacles

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[Image courtesy http://www.colourbox.com ]

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