Here’s an older Nabokov talking about the best American novels:
I show you this to get a sense of his voice and his mannerisms.
In this short novel, we are introduced to a Russian professor named Timofey Pnin, who immigrated to the US to teach at a small liberal arts college in New England in the 1940s. The novel starts off with Pnin getting a train to report to a conference where he has been enlisted to give a talk. In a way not unlike To the Lighthouse it’s unclear if we’ll ever see him get there, not because of a series of mishaps and slip-ups but because the narrator in this novel can’t seem to move the story forward instead stuck in a loop where he just constantly to keep giving us background and context.
That’s kind of the whole point. We find out a lot of the details that lead us to this moment in Pnin’s life: the affair he’s having with a colleague’s wife, the reorganization of the academic departments at his college where because he’s affable and somewhat vaguely skilled in many fields, he is transferable, and what it means to be brilliant and alone in a foreign country whose very language is almost impossible for you to speak because of the way that languages shapes the very features of one’s mouth, tongue, throat, and lips in order to speak them.
Pnin is a really funny book. It’s very erudite and weird, and it’s a real joy to read.