Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov
Adam Krug is a world renowned philosophy professor, an iconoclast recently widowed, who does not, to put it very mildly, suffer fools gladly. Paduk is the leader of a quasi fascist, quasi communist party called Ekwilism,(Party of the Average Man)who has just completed a coup to take over the governing of the fictitious eastern European country of(I don't think it is ever named, but I may have missed it. The principal cities are denoted as Omigod and, since the coup, Padukgrad). Paduk and Krug have history, having mutually loathed each other as schoolboys, but now Paduk wants Krug, as the only internationally celebrated denizen of the country , to endorse Paduk's regime. Krug, of course, refuses, and the battle of wills is joined.
Nabokov himself says this novel is not social criticism, it is not political commentary and it is not satire. Part of this is the arrogance of an author refusing to be labeled, but it also frees the reader from worrying about the intentions of the author. And for me this is socio/political satire. There are also Kafkaesue elements, and a Joycean density to the prose. However Nabokov has something Joyce, or at least Joyce's writing, seems to be completely lacking; a sense of humor. Bend Sinister is funny! Well, if you like your humor wicked, savage, dark, and extremely erudite. I'm neither clever enough nor educated enough to get all of Nabokov's wit and humor, but what I did recognize was enough to make this a very enjoyable read and worth the work of paying continuous attention. But I did have to give it my complete attention. This was not something I could read amidst distractions. There were paragraphs I had to read 3 times because my attention flagged for a word or two, and I'd be lost. But it was always all there, if I'd simply read closely and carefully. And when I did, what richness of lyricism and imagery and wit and ideas! And feeling, although most of the genuine and non-loathing feelings are experienced by Krug for his son and dead wife. And, at least in this novel, Nabokov displayed what I have found to be a rare gift- to create a satirical character and have it seem real. To write a caricature which emphasizes its deepest, rather than its shallowest, qualities.
Wrote the previous comments when I was about 150 pages into this book. Then I went on vacation and didn't read anything other than menus and tide charts for 9 days. When I came back to it I was no longer in the flow of the book and it seemed rather pretentious and self indulgent. Plus the tone seemed uneven, incorporating truly horrific events into farcical situations. When really savage black humor doesn't work it just seems cold, cruel and even sociopathic, and it just didn't work for me in several instances,
Overall I am glad I read this, for all of the reasons stated in the beginning of this review. And perhaps if I'd read it straight through I'd have a more positive view of the novel as a whole. I had hoped to finish it before my vacation, but it was slow going because of its density, and the first 150 pages took me 4 days(the last seventy also took 4 days). But, having finally finished it,my present feelings only merit 3 stars.