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Five years later the Nabokov family were living in exile in Berlin. Nabokov's father was running the exile Russian-language newspaper Rul' (The Rudder), which propagated moderate views, condemning both the excesses of the Russian revolutionaries and the extreme right-wing views of the exiled tsarists. On March 28, 1922, Nabokov's father appeared at a public meeting alongside Paul Miliukov, a leader of the moderate faction. Nabokov, now twenty-two, had no interest in such meetings and did not attend. He and his brother Sergey were on holiday from Cambridge University in England, where their fees were being paid by the pearls his mother had managed to smuggle out of Russia when they had fled the revolution.
That March day in 1922 Berlin, the young Vladimir Nabokov recorded in his diary: "I returned home about 9 pm, after a heavenly day. After dinner I sat in the chair by the divan and opened a little volume of Blok. Mother, half-lying, was setting the cards out for patience.... I was reading aloud those tender poems about Italy, about damp, resonant Venice, about Florence, like a smoky iris." The phone rang in the hall, and he went out to answer it, "annoyed that my reading was interrupted."
As a consequence of this phone call, Nabokov learned that the meeting attended by his father had broken up amidst sensational circumstances. An assassin had leapt onto the stage with the intenton of shooting Miliukov. Nabokov's father had realized what was happening and had struggled with the assassin. A second assassin, the fanatical tsarist Sergey Taboritsky, had then shot Nabokov's father, apparently mistaking him for Miliukov. The assassination attempt had failed, but Nabokov's father was dead.
Nabokov was devastated. He had idolized his father and had been very close to him, despite their differing interests. First the Nabokovs had been forced into exile, now the family was dispersed. Nabokov's mother and sisters went to live in Prague, his brother Sergey went to Paris. After graduating from Cambridge, Nabokov himself returned to live in Berlin, where he eked out an existence writing novels and short stories in Russian. In 1936 his father's assassin Sergey Taboritsky was appointed by the Nazis to a post overseeing the Russian emigre community in Berlin, and Nabokov fled to Paris with his half-Jewish wife and their two-year-old son. When his mother became fatally ill 1938, he was unable to afford the fare to see her. Two years later, as the Nazis overran France, Nabokov managed to obtain a berth to America for himself and his family on the last passenger liner to leave France. His brother Sergey, who had been out of Paris at the time and was left behind, would eventually die in a concentration camp. At the age of forty-one Nabokov arrived in America virtually penniless, an unknown writer with a family to support. Amongst his luggage was the manuscript of a failed novella called Volshebnik (The Enchanter), which featured a middle-aged man with a passion for a twelve-year-old girl who would eventually be given the name Lolita.
Excerpted from Nabokov IN 90 MINUTES by Paul Strathern Copyright © 2005 by Paul Strathern.
Excerpted by permission.
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|Nabokov's Life and Works||9|
|Nabokov's Chief Works in English Translation||107|
|Chronology of Nabokov's Life and Times||109|