Reading Nabokov to Nabokov

Img-article---zanganeh-nabokov_202213920 Lila Azam Zanganeh in The Daily Beast:

For three days and three nights, on a damp February weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, I read Nabokov to Nabokov. I had traveled from New York to Palm Beach with a manuscript in my suitcase to visit Dmitri Nabokov, the only son and literary executor of Vladimir Nabokov.

The manuscript, my first book, contained a number of Nabokov quotes for which I needed to obtain rights before I could approach an American publisher. I knew that, in 1999, Dmitri had threatened to sue an Italian author named Pia Pera over a book titled Lo’s Diary, a rewriting of Lolita from Lolita’s point of view. To avoid an infringement lawsuit, Pera’s American publisher had printed a scathing preface by Dmitri (“Pia Pera [henceforth PP], an Italian journalist and author of some stories that I have not read …”). Aside from this, Dmitri had built a forbidding reputation in the literary world for attacking the works of many a would-be Nabokovian. Fearing the worst, I had emailed Dmitri the manuscript, hoping he would read it before I made it to Florida, and that we might spend the evening discussing potential issues.

My book was a curious combination of fiction and essay, of invention and interpretation. It posited that Nabokov was the great writer of happiness. A notion that, over the years, almost invariably turned small talk into opinionated tirades. Happiness, evidently, did not keep good company with nymphets and nympholepts.

Palm Beach felt like a sort of grotesque inversion of Nabokov’s short story “Spring in Fialta”: gigantic pine trees; juniper shrubs; sorry-go-rounds of concrete high-rises. With a map and a bicycle, I’d made my way to Ocean Drive. I rehearsed with myself how I might parry various lines of attack: breathe, acquiesce, qualify. “Your father hated didactic writings, hence this book had to be extremely playful … I had to imagine him.” With an accelerated heart rate, I rang the bell of Dmitri’s apartment. A beaming nurse opened the door, and I stepped into a living room adorned with posters outlining, in 19th-century font, the casts of productions Dmitri had sung in during his operatic career. La Bohème stood out—a memorable performance, as Dmitri later recounted, at the Teatro di Reggio Emilia, where he had sung his debut role on the same night as Pavarotti, nearly half a century ago. On the door to his bedroom, to the left, a glossy poster of Kubrick’s Lolita displayed the famous pair of heart-shaped red glasses. Among mirrors and modern cream-white furniture, one could glimpse various miniature models of racing cars, another of his life’s passions.