Nabokov wrote a ton. He lost the Nobel Prize in a weird year where two judges essentially gave it to each other, but he is easily one of if not the most important and impressive writers of the 20th century, if not ever. He’s mostly known for Lolita of course, which you should read immediately, and like a lot of author’s whose most (in)famous book overshadows a lot of his career, his other great books and stories get overlooked. He wrote supremely in two very different language and probably could have written in two more. He translated his own work, his translated other Russian work, and he helped to create the underground literary book trade known as “samizdat” in the Soviet and produced one of the top five books secretly traded books (Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago notwithstanding…alongside the last book I reviewed Life and Fate among countless others).
So here’s his short fiction. I will blurb each story. These particular stories were primarily written in English.
- “The Aurelian” A weird little story about a butterfly collector that helps to establish and emphasize the author’s obsession with the insect. It’s also a nice tale about obsession and legacy.
2) “Spring in Fialta” The title story of the other name for this collection. This details a springtime in the riviera city of Fialta, dealing with memory and its various troubles.
3) “Cloud, Castle Lake” A funny story about a Russian expat who takes a trip to one of the inner European lakes. Probably details parts or at least highlights the discomfort and restlessness of a cultural refugee who can’t quote escape that category.
4) “Mademoiselle O” My favorite of the stories in the collection. This is a weird little story about an older writer looking back on a figure from his youth and realizing that in both memory and memorializing someone ancillary to your life in fiction, you strip them of their depth.
5) “The Assistant Producer” This is about a theater producer narrated a part of his life. The ecstatic part of Nabokov’s writing…where it feels breathless and needlessly and effortlessly brilliant is on display.
6) “That In Aleppo Once…” Every time I saw Gary Johnson’s dumb mug on tv saying “And What is Aleppo?” I thought of this story. More and more about love and memory and loss.
7) “A Forgotten Poet” The story of a mild literary obsession growing around a lost poet and what happens when he returns and shatters the mythos.
8) “Time and Ebb” A strange kind of almost sci fi or magical realist tale posed as a memoir.
9) “Conversation Piece 1945″ An imagining of the realizations of the logical extensions of antisemitism after the fact. A horror about wishing for something dreadful and it coming true.
10)”Signs and Symbols” The strongest piece, the one that’s in other books. A small mediation on the loss of someone who is still living and dealing with that lost simultaneous with still maintaining their care.
11) “First Love” Every Russian writer has a story called first love. This is his.
12) “Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster” A mediation on being a conjoined twin and realizing that your difference from the mainstream becomes their only way of understanding you.
13) “Lance” Another pseudo meditation on time. A play on the Lancelot myth.