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Mary is a gripping tale of youth, first love, and nostalgia--Nabokov's first novel.  In a Berlin rooming house filled with an assortment of seriocomic Russian émigrés, Lev Ganin, a vigorous young officer poised between his past and his future, relives his first love affair.  His memories of Mary are suffused with the freshness of youth and the idyllic ambience of pre-revolutionary Russia.  In stark contrast is the decidedly unappealing boarder living in the room next to Ganin's, who, he discovers, is Mary's husband, temporarily separated from her by the Revolution but expecting her imminent arrival from Russia.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679726203
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/1989
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 512,380
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.38(d)

About the Author

Vladimir 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 anti-Semitism 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 18 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. His most notable works include 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


Trinity College, Cambridge, 1922

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Mary 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Karlus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story opens, Nabokovian-style, in a Berlin rooming house with two men stranded in an elevator trying to introduce themselves to each other in the pitch darkness,'"By the way let me introduce myself: Aleksey Ivanovich Alfyorov. Sorry, I think I trod on your foot --.""How do you do." said Ganin, feeling in the dark for the hand that poked at his cuff.'One can only imagine such a scene! (After all, the lights are off.) But from the first paragraphs of this, his first novel, it is clear that Nabokov's vivid narrative style was already with him, creating realistic settings and believable characters in sometimes comical circumstances. In fact, inside that Berlin rooming house, the two men have adjoining rooms, and a number of other characters are also alive: the elderly widow-owner, living at the end of the hall; two giggly young ballet dancers, who live down the hall; a meek older man, who is intimidated by government bureaucracy, and worried about obtaining a passport; and "a full-busted girl with striking bluish-brown eyes." As with many supporting characters in a Nabokov novel, they also become fully and enjoyably rounded as people who live out their parts in a colorful and lively story.From the back cover we already know something that those two men in the elevator don't fully appreciate -- that, although Mary is the wife of one of them, she is also the first young-love of the other. And, fortunately for overall calm, she isn't yet in Berlin, but is emigrating from Russia. We are aware of the triangular relationship but, as that information also seeps into the story itself, life goes bustling on but tension builds, until one of the men can stand it no longer and takes irrevocable and decisive action.It would be going too far to say that this is a psychological mystery-suspense-thriller of the modern style -- it lacks the hard edge -- but the elements are there, including a scene with some light-fingered, surreptitious rummaging through dresser drawers that will likely have you holding your breath.To me, Mary is, instead, a very nicely depicted and intertwined slice-of-life from an urban corner of the Russian emigree community in Berlin in the 1920's, told in Nabokov's recognizable and enjoyable style. As the drama nears its end, peace returns again to the rooming house and one sees a scene that pre-echoes the conclusion of Glory, yet to be written in the future."From the black branches of some trees, just beginning to sprout green, a flock of sparrows fluttered away with an airy rustle and settled on the narrow ledge of a high brick wall."This is an early and pleasant look at an author who would later mature into telling much more involuted and layered stories that would challenge the reader's understanding and then culminate, of course, in Lolita and Pale Fire. Here we can see Nabokov in a simpler and more straightforward story form and catch the beginnings of stylistic threads that will continue to flow through his novels. Nabokov's beginnings are definitely worth the look.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Utterly magnificent without qualification.As a Nabokov admirer, I am yet a dilettante. I've of course read Lolita. Pale Fire is one of my favorite books but to claim I comprehend its complexities would be absurd. And Ada confounded me entirely.To better understand Nabokov I decided it might make sense to read him from the beginning. I already owned a copy of Mary--his first novel, written in Russian--and pulled the copy off of its bookcase last night with aims to scan the first few pages (to see what I was in for). 60 pages later it was only with great effort and a bit of maturity (it was nearly one o'clock in the morning) that I managed to pause for sleep, gulping down the second half of the novella this morning. Broadly, the story is about visceral first love, loss and recollection. About the conflation of memory and fantasy. More deeply I'd be at a loss to plumb the depths of this work's meanings without years of careful study. I know it's the most autobiographical of Nabokov's fictional works. I know it unlocks many of the themes and symbols Nabokov would continue to use throughout his literary career. But beyond that I can only rely on a quick dead reckoning and my own emotional response to try to grapple an understanding. I finished the last page mere minutes ago, but already I am deeply ruminant about Nabokov's use of color symbolism in Mary. Violet and yellow make the most frequent appearances, but blue, black, green, white and the rest of the spectrum get their turns, too. In tone, the book is sparkling. Nabokov's close supervision of the translation is obvious: the English is so handsomely turned out that it is difficult to find a superlative to describe it. Each word seems as carefully chosen as each (meaningful and disclosing) character's room and personal items in the boarding house they all share in a Russian district of Berlin. Nothing is wasted.It's the mid-1920s and protagonist Ganin indolently kills time, a lackluster soul, purposeless since his escape from revolutionary Russia some years prior. The other boarders in Frau Dorn's pension run the gamut from tragic to ridiculous. It is the end of winter."...nostalgia in reverse, the longing for yet another strange land, grew especially strong in spring," thinks Ganin early in the story. Stifled and stagnated, ready for something of meaning, he is primed for a crisis when he discovers that his fellow boarder's wife--slated to arrive the following Saturday, ending a long separation--is none other than his former, long-lost first love.The story is tight and rapid, with a tensional acceleration that left me breathless for the resolution. Dialog and interactions in the boarding house feel Chekhovian; the concrete occurrences feel like scenes in a play, while Ganin's recollections take on a poetic dreaminess. Every page felt like a gift, and every sentence like a gift, up until the very last word.
Aimee_Leon More than 1 year ago
This book is an insightful story of young love, and lost. change & lost. The setting takes place in Russia during the uprowl of the revolution. Ganin often keeps remembering his first love Mary, and their deep romance. But it years has passed and life took them to a whole different direction, and now Ganin has found out that his eternal Mary is not his anymore. Let me stop before I ruin the story before anyone reads it. This great novel was beautifully written by Valdimir Nobokov. "Mary" was not a difficult at all, and it is totally worth reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a unique story of love, change & lost. It's wasn't a complicated suspense but very clever. Nabokov has done a wonderful writing in this novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
most people remember their first love as idyllic and life-changing. Lev, the protagonist, thought so too. until he is given the chance to see the first love he carelessly left behind again. he is torn by desire, regret, and fear. should he see her? should he try to love her again? suddenly this man's memories of a pastural romance turn turbid. classic war time love story.