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by Vladimir Nabokov

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Pnin is a professor of Russian at an American college who takes the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he cannot master. Pnin is a tireless lover who writes to his treacherous Liza: "A genius needs to keep so much in store, and thus cannot offer you the whole of himself as I do." Pnin is the focal point of subtle academic conspiracies he cannot begin


Pnin is a professor of Russian at an American college who takes the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he cannot master. Pnin is a tireless lover who writes to his treacherous Liza: "A genius needs to keep so much in store, and thus cannot offer you the whole of himself as I do." Pnin is the focal point of subtle academic conspiracies he cannot begin to comprehend, yet he stages a faculty party to end all faculty parties forever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nabokov fans will be disappointed by narrator Stefan Rudnicki's stiff, staid performance in this audio version of the author's 13th novel. Told in a series of vignettes, the story follows Russian immigrant and professor Timofey Pavlovich Pnin as he boards the wrong train on his way to deliver a lecture, loses his luggage, struggles with the English language, hunts for living quarters, deals with his ex-wife, and throws a faculty party. Rudnicki's narration is clear and steady, but fails to capture the playfulness of Nabokov's prose and the humor of the text. Instead, Rudnicki's tone is variously stiff, needlessly booming, or monotone. He does, however, provide a wide range of voices for the cast of characters. His rendition of the title character—which sounds like a hybrid of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat and Soviet comedian Yakov Smirnoff—is dynamic and entertaining. Listeners will be left wishing Rudnicki had infused more of his narration with those qualities. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
“Hilariously funny and of a sadness.” –Graham Greene

Pnin’s vita, though its essence is saintliness, is yet a work of brilliant magic and fabulous laughter.” –The New Republic

“Fun and satire are just the beginning of the rewards of this novel. Generous, bewildered Pnin, that most kindly and impractical of men, wins our affection and respect.” –Chicago Tribune

“Nabokov can move you to laughter in the way the masters can–to laughter that is near to tears.” –The Guardian

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

What People are saying about this

John Updike
Navakov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.

Meet the Author

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were known for their high culture and commitment to public service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken opponent of antisemitism and one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.

The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.

Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. In his afterword to Lolita he claimed: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses–the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions–which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way." [p. 317] Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
April 23, 1899
Date of Death:
July 2, 1977
Place of Birth:
St. Petersburg, Russia
Place of Death:
Montreux, Switzerland
Trinity College, Cambridge, 1922

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Pnin 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Curlene More than 1 year ago
Pnin is a lesser-known little novel by Vladimir Nabokov, about a Russian-language instructor at a small American college. He is at the college because of the kindness of his friend, the chairman of the German department, as the college is not big enough to include a Slavics department per se. Throughout the novel, which mainly consists of a series of small adventures in the life and career of Pnin, the reader gets to know him as an intelligent but slightly pathetic pedant who clings to the old ways and spends many hours reminiscing about the past. He is very proud of being an American citizen, but somehow he never "gets it" and continues to be the butt of ridicule at the hands of his colleagues. While he is skewering Pnin, of course, Nabokov is also merciless in his mockery of American culture and the cultural ignorance of its citizens, even its intellectuals. The humor is black comedy, sly and unrelenting. One caveat: there are some strange things that have happened in the translation from paper book to electronic version: for example, somewhere in the middle of the book, it says "Pnin Ut" which should have been "Pnin lit". Perhaps the scanning device made a mistake, but an editor should have picked up on this mistake.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pnin is one of Nabakov 's greatest creations, and arguably his most lovable one. The bumbling humor of the exiled professor in America has enormous charm. Nabakov's brilliance often blunts the appeal of his characters, but in this case somehow there is sympathy for the main character and consciousness of the work. In a way the most readable of all Nabokov's work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Timofey Pnin, the title character, is revealed at first as a rather pathetic Russian professor teaching at an American college, where he daily mangles the English language. Because of his overdeveloped sense of organization, he ironically ends up almost late and unprepared for a lecture he is to give. Gradually, the comic aspects of his character melt away to reveal someone, who is quite human, leading a life filled with disappointments. Nabokov fans might be disappointed with the beginning, which seems rather tedious, but which proves important to the overall theme of the novel. Nabokov's beautifully poetic prose and constant wordplays shine through, though not as much as in some of his other works. Nabokov fans can also count on the presence of his favorite winged creature of which he was an avid collector.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
With a command of diction and prose largely unrivaled by his twentieth century contemporaries, Vladimir Nabokov invites readers to take a brief biographical journey with Timofey Pnin, a hardworking Russian professor whose passion to spread knowledge of his native culture and language is often curtailed by his imperfect delivery of broken English. Nabokov accomplishes a remarkable sense of reality throughout his novel, successfully instilling a subtle life-like quality within his words that effortlessly stirs empathy and compassion from the reader. Every elegantly crafted sentence evokes a profound thoughtfulness and a stunning attention to detail indeed, Nabokov¿s poetic manner of expression tastefully exposes Pnin¿s humanity and inner thought to the reader. At the close of the novel, Pnin has evolved from a fictional character to an endearing, believable human being. Readers will feel surprised at the unavoidable love and sympathy that emerges for the clumsy Timofey Pnin. A faint sense of innocence and naïveté pervades Pnin throughout the novel, hinting at a tragedy scarcely conspicuous, yet ever present in his approaching fate. The bright satisfaction with which Pnin approaches the familiar routine of his life props readers on a desperately precipitous ledge, helplessly within view of the fatal plummet into which Pnin will inevitably plunge. Nabokov¿s masterful grasp of subtlety is arguably the most impressive aspect of his brilliant work. From a purely objective perspective, Pnin¿s life seems dreadfully ordinary and frankly uninspiring. Very little conspicuous excitement occurs in this novel. It is Nabokov¿s ability to evoke passionate emotion in the reader ¿ empathy, compassion, love ¿ without overt action, which validates the excellence of his work. Pnin rests high on its pedestal alongside Nabokov¿s ample collection of masterpieces. While the glory and splendor of Lolita and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight may always dim the light of his other works, Nabokov¿s Pnin evokes a beautiful and unique character all its own. Casting light on obscure subject matter less often found in archetypal, philosophy-packed Russian literature, this novel should be noted perhaps for offering a more easily approachable account to the mentally exhausted reader. An absolutely beautiful, articulate work for those who are willing to read closely and analytically, Pnin will exceed all expectations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I kept waiting for something important to happen. I could not believe this was written by the same author who wrote Bend Sinister--a very exciting and inspiring book. The writing is insightful and accurately descriptive, however. Those who like most other Russian writers will like this book.