(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bend Sinister is the story of a philosopher who tries to keep himself remote from the politics of his country by reasoning that he is too well-known a figure to be hurt. He watches his friends disappear and seems to have little concern for what happens to them. Finally, government forces remove Krug and his son from their apartment and separate father and son. Only now does Krug realize that he will do or say anything to save his son. Unfortunately, the son is mistakenly, pointlessly killed, and Krug takes refuge in madness to remove himself from a world become absurd.

A simple summary of the plot of the novel, however, misses most of its thematic and structural complexities and its creation of a surreal, fictional realm where cosmic tragedy and comedy mesh (Vladimir Nabokov once said that the trouble with the “cosmic” was that it was always threatening to lose its “s”) and where protagonist and narrator/author are reflections of each other in a drama in which the terror of dreams intertwines with nightmarish reality.

The novel begins and ends with images reflected in a rain puddle situated in the middle of an asphalt road. Krug sees the puddle first at the beginning of the novel as he looks into the street from the window of a hospital, where his wife has just died unexpectedly. The narrator/author sees the same puddle at the end of the novel as he wonders whether people leave an imprint in the texture of space similar to the imprint made by the depression in the ground that is filled with rainwater. Nabokov himself, in a 1963 introduction to the novel, points out how the puddle reappears in various guises throughout the...

(The entire section is 679 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Appel, Alfred, Jr., and Charles Newman, eds. Nabokov: Criticism, Reminiscences, Translations, Tributes. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1970. A good introduction to Nabokov’s writing, including a varied sampling of material about the man, about the writer, and about his several unique works. Perhaps a hodgepodge, but an early collection that contrasts dramatically with later criticism, which suggested that Nabokov was a humanist if also a kind of verbal magician.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Essays on Nabokov’s handling of time, illusion and reality, and art. There are separate essays on each of his major novels, as well as an introduction, chronology, and bibliography.

Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. The first volume of the definitive biography, fully researched and written with the cooperation of Nabokov’s family. Boyd has an extraordinary command of the origins of Nabokov’s art. This volume includes a discussion of Nabokov’s years in Europe after he left Russia.

Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. Boyd concludes his masterful biography. As with volume 1, his work is copiously illustrated with detailed...

(The entire section is 455 words.)