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What Is Vladimir Nabokov's Best Book?

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov, born on April 22, 1899 in St. Petersburg, Russia, was a renowned Russian-American author who made a significant impact on 20th-century literature. Coming from a noble and affluent Russian family, Nabokov enjoyed a privileged upbringing that included private tutors and extensive travel throughout Europe.

Nabokov’s family fled to Crimea in 1917, escaping the chaos of the Russian Revolution. From there, they moved throughout Europe, eventually settling in Berlin, where Nabokov earned a living by giving tennis and boxing lessons, creating crossword puzzles, and writing short stories for Russian émigré publications.

In 1925, he married Véra Evseyeva, who became his lifelong companion, editor, and translator. Their son, Dmitri, was born in 1934. During this period, Nabokov wrote under the pseudonym Vladimir Sirin, establishing his literary reputation among Russian émigrés and European critics.

The rise of the Nazis compelled the Jewish Véra and Nabokov to move to the United States in 1940. There, Nabokov taught Russian and European literature at Wellesley College and later, Cornell University. His experiences in academia later provided material for his novel “Pnin.”

Nabokov’s first significant success in English literature came with the publication of “Lolita” in 1955, a controversial novel exploring the themes of hebephilia and manipulation. Despite the scandal surrounding its subject matter, the novel’s narrative prowess and command of the English language solidified Nabokov’s standing in the literary world.

His later works, including “Pale Fire” and “Ada or Ardor,” continued to push linguistic and narrative boundaries, reinforcing his reputation as a literary innovator. Nabokov’s works are marked by his unique prose style, intricate plots, and his passion for wordplay and puzzles.

Aside from literature, Nabokov had a lifelong fascination with lepidopterology, the study of butterflies, and made significant contributions to the field.

In 1961, Nabokov moved to Montreux, Switzerland, where he lived until his death on July 2, 1977. Despite his passing, Nabokov’s influence continues to be felt, with his works widely studied and admired for their depth, complexity, and linguistic virtuosity.

Book Publication Year Genre
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight 1941 Fiction
Bend Sinister 1947 Fiction
Lolita 1955 Fiction
Pnin 1957 Fiction
Pale Fire 1962 Fiction
Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited 1967 Autobiography
Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle 1969 Fiction
Transparent Things 1972 Fiction
Look at the Harlequins! 1974 Fiction

What Is Vladimir Nabokov's Best Book?

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941)

Vladimir Nabokov’s first novel written in English, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, is a deeply intriguing story of identity and deception. It revolves around the narrator’s quest to decipher the enigma of his brother, the eponymous Sebastian Knight, a famous Russian novelist writing in English, after his death. The novel is a fascinating exploration of memory, truth, and the complexity of human identity.

  • Publication Year: 1941
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Opening Vote: 1.64%

Bend Sinister (1947)

Bend Sinister is Nabokov’s darkly dramatic exploration of a dystopian society. The novel follows Adam Krug, a philosopher, who becomes the prime target of the dictatorial government due to his refusal to endorse their regime. The title, which refers to a heraldic term, hints at the novel’s themes of personal resistance against oppressive systems.

  • Publication Year: 1947
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Opening Vote: 1.64%

Lolita (1955)

Possibly the most renowned and controversial of Nabokov’s works, Lolita, is a tragicomedy narrated by the cultured, yet despicable, Humbert Humbert. The novel tells the story of Humbert’s obsessive love for the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, nicknamed Lolita. The book explores complex themes like obsession, manipulation, and the corrupting power of art, remaining a significant topic of discussion in literary circles.

  • Publication Year: 1955
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Opening Vote: 32.79%

Pnin (1957)

Pnin is a novel that offers a tender and often humorous portrayal of the title character, Timofey Pnin, a Russian professor adapting to American life and academia. Nabokov navigates the landscape of memory, displacement, and the struggle of an émigré in this book, delivering a narrative that is both touching and subtly comical.

  • Publication Year: 1957
  • Genre: Fiction
  • 8.20%

Pale Fire (1962)

Pale Fire is an ingenious work, presented as a 999-line poem written by the fictional John Shade, with a foreword and lengthy commentary by Shade’s neighbor, Charles Kinbote. This complex narrative structure allows Nabokov to explore themes of reality and fiction, interpretation, and the nature of artistic creation. The novel is often celebrated for its inventiveness and depth.

  • Publication Year: 1962
  • Genre: Fiction
  • 20.49%

Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (1967)

In Speak, Memory, Nabokov recounts his life from his childhood in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution to his struggle to establish himself as a writer in exile. Rather than a traditional chronological recounting, the memoir is a collection of vivid and intensely personal, yet stylized, reflections. The book stands as an eloquent expression of Nabokov’s love for “the conjunction of a dream and reality.”

  • Publication Year: 1967
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Opening Vote: 12.30%

Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969)

Ada or Ardor is an ambitious novel that spans more than a century in the lives of two sibling lovers, Ada and Van Veen. It is a rich and complex work that presents a fictional universe filled with the author’s linguistic playfulness and characteristic exploration of memory, time, and love.

  • Publication Year: 1969
  • Genre: Fiction
  • 4.10%

Transparent Things (1972)

In Transparent Things, Nabokov tells the story of Hugh Person, a young American editor, and his recollections of events in his life. The narrative explores the concept of time and memory, with Person’s memories becoming transparent and overlapping with the present. It’s a relatively shorter work but carries the same level of linguistic mastery that Nabokov is celebrated for.

  • Publication Year: 1972
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Opening Vote: 1.64%

Look at the Harlequins! (1974)

Look at the Harlequins! is Nabokov’s final novel, presenting a semi-autobiographical portrayal of the life of the fictional Vadim Vadimovich N., a Russian-American author whose life and work show curious parallels with Nabokov’s own. The novel offers an insight into the creative process and the consequences of artistic creation, closing the author’s literary career on a note of introspection.

  • Publication Year: 1974
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Opening Vote: 0.82%