The novel is the story of Dreyer, a wealthy and boisterous proprietor of a men's clothing emporium store. Ruddy, self-satisfied, and thoroughly masculine, he is perfectly repugnant to his exquisite but cold middle-class wife Martha. Attracted to his money but repelled by his oblivious passion, she longs for their nephew instead, the myopic Franz. Newly arrived in Berlin, Franz soon repays his uncle's condescension in his aunt's bed.
About the Author
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were known for their high culture and commitment to public service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken opponent of antisemitism and one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.
The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.
Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. In his afterword to Lolita he claimed: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatusesthe baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditionswhich the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way." [p. 317] Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.
Date of Birth:April 23, 1899
Date of Death:July 2, 1977
Place of Birth:St. Petersburg, Russia
Place of Death:Montreux, Switzerland
Education:Trinity College, Cambridge, 1922
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nabokov's second novel, written in the late 1920's in Germany, traces the torpid and illusory throes of a love triangle pitting young, mawkish Franz against his rich and boisterous uncle Dreyer. Their joint target: Dreyer's unattainable, beautiful and manipulative wife.Ostensibly the characters are German, the novel's main setting Berlin. But, though sensual, languorous descriptions of rooms and gestures abound, the locale and nationality recedes more or less, and I am reminded of Chekov's country families or the Russian elite at summer dachas when the Dreyers gather at table during the warmer months of the book.Franz, just off the turnip truck (or, really, the train into town, on which he coincidentally shares a compartment with none other than his future benefactor and paramour), comes to the big city and begins work as a salesman in his uncle's department store. It's only a matter of time before he sets eyes on Dreyer's wife Martha, and she begins to see him as an innocent, perfect, passionate replacement for her upbeat and stable husband. Juvenile, vulgar trysts ensue. The intimacy is anatomical, repulsive. Everything has a sexual and creepy tinge, offset by Franz' obsessive jags of disgust (at smells, at saliva, excrement; though this doesn't stop him from producing copious amounts of his own) which send him reeling and fleeing. We ourselves want to flee when we're shut into his damp, grim room with him and Marta during their bouts of rather hideous lovemaking. The entire book feels like an extreme closeup, showing us the pores and pustules of humans and their delusions. Martha, in her sharp-cornered role of icy temptress exudes her femme fatale nature strongly enough that Franz doesn't notice for some time that she actually resembles an 'old toad.' His early perceptions of her brew perfection from slight flaws: he flies into ecstasy over the fuzz of her upper lip, an unbecoming sweater, a pockmark. As he tires of their affair, we hear his noticing of her 'fat thigh' without the embellishment. This spells doom.Most of the novel is watching Franz and Martha come to the decision that they need to do away with Dreyer to enable their hazy vision of bliss. It's stupid, of course. A folly. There is a lot of developing Nabokovian symbolism here, of course. Watch for automatons and hints of the ensuing Nazi threat. Some feels a bit pat in light of Nabokov's later exquisite works, and KQK falls short of the immediate rapture and brightness of his first work, Mary. What Nabokov does brilliantly here is segue between perception and imagination, stream-of-consciousness, dreams and then back into narrative again—all while, of course, employing taut wordplay—without stumping the reader. It feels natural in flow, especially because this late-1960s translation, a collaboration between Nabokov's son and the author himself, reworked large pieces of the book to fit better in English, and to reflect changes based on cultural hindsight. The Nazi foreshadowing was increased, and a sentence that caught my eye, that Franz would later be 'guilty of worse sins than avunculicide', added. The book is worth reading, especially for Nabokov fans. But if you are looking for an entry point or are less committed to untangling the web of the great Russian/French/English writer, read Mary instead.
I enjoyed reading this, especially after recently reading Gatsby. It was interesting to realize that this storyline also takes place in the 20's but over in Europe. Nabokov is playful in his writing, at times breaking away form the narrative and talking to his readers. He even makes a cameo appearance near the end of the story where a beautiful foreign couple walks past the main character. The story is a classic love triangle where a once fairly geeky nephew begin to grow ( in many ways)as he enters into a love affair with his benefactor's wife. Dreyer, who remains amazingly unaware of the relationship, plays the cuckold husband. Franz and Martha at times seem desperately in love and at other times seem to be going through the motions. Even the planned out murder scene is postponed only because Dreyer hints that he is about to make a lot of money. There is a subplot about Dreyer entering into a business deal to make robot like store mannequins, and according to the snippets of analysis I read , their success mimics the success of the plotting couple. All in all this was a different kind of book for me, but I was glad to move away from only the most recent of fiction. I have another old Nobokv on my shelf -Ada- which I will also have to get to someday.