Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Nabokov's 'Natasha'

In its June 9, 2008 issue, The New Yorker has published 'Natasha'--a short story by Vladimir Nabokov, circa 1924; translated by son Dmitri Nabokov.

The story is a study of contrasts. Witness this early scene: Ailing Khrenov "pulled the blanket tightly around him" but "the thermometer was warm, alive—the column of mercury climbed high on the little red ladder. "

Old Khrenov, who is bed-ridden, ill and almost dying, is most in touch with reality -- he pays attention to people's movements, and presumably, to their feelings as well. He is obsessed with the world outside that can come to his bedside only via the newspaper. He makes a pronouncement early in the story that one almost misses.

Young Natasha, even while nursing and caring for her father with utmost sincerity, is quite attuned to "the warmth of her own body, her long thighs, and her bare arms...". She is lost in her own world of formication just as Baron Wolfe lives in his own fantasy world. But through Wolfe, towards the tail end of the story, we are made to confront the following life-affirming questions: is it really that simple to decide who inhabits reality and whose life is fictional? Is one man's insignificant life less complete because he merely dreams? Is another man's gigantic life a solid reality when all he does is moan, groan and complain his way through it? Again, an interesting juxtaposition of contrasting themes.

Truly, a charming, moving, riveting short story.

Cross-posted at Russian reading challenge.


Robert said...

The man could write. The story is simple but infused with characteristic Nabokov themes and forms -- externalizations (via magic realism) of inner life, expatriates and misfits, thwarted desire, irony, nature unfolding and instructing, failure leavened with a light-hearted touch. Already in 1924 his observation of people was acute. -- Robert E. Olsen,

Robert said...

See the article at, which dates "Natasha" to 1921 rather than 1924.