Dmitri Nabokov: His Father’s Best Translator

Lila Azam Zanganeh in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_12 Jul. 27 12.10As an adolescent in Paris in the 1990s, I had listened as my mother, an Iranian exile, read English excerpts from “Speak, Memory,” Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir of his early years in Russia and his life after the Bolshevik Revolution, in Crimea, Germany and France. Dmitri appears in “Speak, Memory,” both as an infant in Berlin, his tiny hand placed “starfish-wise” on his father’s, and as a 6-year-old at the port of St. Nazaire, on the last page, about to catch sight of the enormous yellow funnel of the Champlain, the ship the Nabokovs would embark on to seek refuge in America. When my mother read this passage to me for the first time, I recall clinging to its final image: “something in a scrambled picture — Find What the Sailor Has Hidden — that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.” A secret trapdoor had suddenly opened. Reading was a matter of capturing a detail in a scrambled picture, which, once perceived, unveiled a new story, often richer and stranger than the one first imagined.

This, in my eyes, would prove to be true of Dmitri himself. Véra Nabokov was Jewish, which was why the family had been compelled to flee Europe in 1940 aboard the Cham­plain. This would be a second exile for the Nabokovs — in a space of two decades, they had escaped both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis, each time by a matter of hours. Thus, Dmitri was the child of a revolution and a war.

More here.