Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov

Bend Sinister

Bend Sinister  begins and ends with Professor Krug staring into a puddle.
A new totalitarian government (in a small country in eastern European) is run by incompetents under the guise of being average. The leader is an old classmate of Krug. As a kid Krug used to bully Paduk, whom he called, Toad. For reasons that are not adequately explained, Paduk needs Krug to legitimize his government. Krug and his friend Ember gained some odd worldwide fame translating Shakespeare- back into English?!
There is some humor in the way Paduk’s state is portrayed but it quickly devolves into terror and horror. The characters of the book, including the three sisters who work for the state, are interesting- everyone is angling for something. The book is better than I remembered. (6/5/1991) Nabokov does a good job of showing what happens with socialism and fascism, once they get off their leash. People lose their minds if not their souls.

192 pages

Notes From My Kindle

Krug had recently lost his wife. A new political order had stunned the city. Two people he was fond of had been spirited away and perhaps executed. But the room was warm and quiet and Ember was deep in Hamlet. And Krug marveled at the strangeness of the day. – location 1694-96

He got rid of her furs, of all her photographs, of her huge English sponge and supply of lavender soap, of her umbrella, of her napkin ring, of the little porcelain owl she had bought for Ember and never given him. – location 1910-11

‘The hell you do,’ said Krug. The door opened slightly and a fat grey parrot with a note in its beak walked in. It waddled towards the desk on clumsy hoary legs and its claws made the kind of sound that unmanicured dogs make on varnished floors. Paduk jumped out of his chair, walked rapidly towards the old bird and kicked it like a football out of the room. Then he shut the door with a bang. The telephone was ringing its heart out on the desk. He disconnected the current and clapped the whole thing into a drawer. – location 2021-25

He argued that, when the Council of Elders had exhausted its power of seduction, he would be left alone since the Government, while not daring to arrest him and being reluctant to grant him the luxury of exile, would still keep hoping with forlorn obstinacy that finally he might relent. The drab colour the future took matched well the grey world of his widowhood, and had there been no friends to worry about and no child to hold against his cheek and heart, he might have devoted the twilight to some quiet research: – location 2118-21

I might start writing the unknown thing I want to write; unknown, except for a vague shoe-shaped outline, the infusorial quiver of which I feel in my restless bones, a feeling of shchekotiki (as we used to say in our childhood) half-tingle, half-tickle, when you are trying to remember something or understand something or find something, and probably your bladder is full, and your nerves are on edge, but the combination is on the whole not unpleasant (if not protracted) and produces a minor orgasm or ‘petit eternuement interieur‘ when at last you find the picture-puzzle piece which exactly fits the gap. – location 2178-82

On the fifth, he went on foot to the Ministry of Justice and demanded an interview in connection with the arrest of his friends but it gradually transpired that the place had been turned into a hotel and that the man whom he had taken for a high official was merely the headwaiter. – location 2396-98

‘When I’m alone,’ she said, ‘I sit and do like this, like a cricket. Listen, please.’ ‘Listen to what?’ ‘Don’t you hear?’ She sat with parted lips, slightly moving her tightly crossed thighs, producing a tiny sound, soft, labiate, with an alternate crepitation as if she were rubbing the palms of her hands which, however, lay idle. ‘Chirruping like a poor lone cricket,’ she said. – location 2644-49

It is not quite clear why he indulged in all this ascetic self-restraint business when he might have ridden himself so deliciously of his quite natural tension and discomfort with the assistance of that keen puella (for whose lively little abdomen younger Romans than he would have paid the Syrian slavers 20,000 dinarii or more). Perhaps he was held back by certain subtle supermatrimonial scruples or by the dismal sadness of the whole thing. Unfortunately his urge to write had suddenly petered out and he did not know what to do with himself. – location 2652-56

He had a throbbing headache: one of those headaches that seem to transcend on one side the limits of one’s head, like the colours in cheap comics, and do not quite fill the head space on the other; and the dull throbs were saying: one, one, one, never reaching two, never. – location 2873-75

Krug entered; Frau Doktor von Wytwyl nee Bachofen (the third, eldest, sister) – location 3078-79

I could also distinguish the glint of a special puddle (the one Krug had somehow perceived through the layer of his own life), an oblong puddle invariably acquiring the same form after every shower because of the constant spatulate shape of a depression in the ground. – location 3309-11


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