Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 392
Bend Sinister is a psychological, dystopian novel by Russian novelist, poet, and etymologist Vladimir Nabokov, written in 1945 and 1946, and published in 1947. It is the second novel which he wrote in English, the first one being The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). The novel takes place in a fictional East European city called Padukgrad which is ran by a tyrant named Paduk, who is the head of the government, and the leader of “The Party of the Average Man.” He is the main antagonist of the story, and wishes everyone to be an “ekwilist”, or a person who values the state above everything else, and believes that everyone should look and act the same.
The main protagonist of the story is a renowned philosophy professor named Adam Krug, who was an old classmate of Paduk and even bullied him, calling him various nicknames such as “Toad.” Paduk wants to use Krug’s respected status and influence to promote his own philosophy and gain even more power, however, Krug refuses.
Thus, Paduk organizes the kidnapping of Krug’s son, David, and holds him for ransom until Krug accepts his offer. Krug agrees, and in a tragic twist realizes that the child held by Paduk and his men is not, in fact, his son. David has actually been sent to an orphanage that houses prisoners, and was killed when the prisoners used him to release their pent up anger. Paduk then makes an offer to Krug—to kill those responsible for his son’s death, and, later on, free some of his friends who were previously arrested for not following the Ekwilist regime. Krug refuses and prepares to attack Paduk, but he is killed by his men.
The novel received mainly positive reviews, however, some readers and critics argue that the story would have been much more meaningful if Nabokov paid more attention to the personal relationships of his main characters, such as the relationship between Adam and his son. Aside from being a psychological dystopian thriller, Bend Sinister is considered to belong in the dark humor genre and the satire genre as well, mainly because of Nabokov’s intelligent rhetoric, witty narrative, and clever puns and wordplay. Interestingly enough, Bend Sinister is also considered Nabokov’s most political novel, as he boldly expresses his protests against the Soviet Communist regime which ruled over Russia.
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