Invitation to a Beheading

Invitation to a Beheading


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Like Kafka's The Castle, Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude," an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws, who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679725312
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/1989
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 196,800
Product dimensions: 5.11(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.62(d)

About 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.

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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Invitation to a Beheading 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Patrick_Curr More than 1 year ago
Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov is a fictional masterpiece. Nabokov takes the reader through an adventure following the main character, Cincinnatus C, a man given the death sentence for a crime called, "gnostical turpitude" which, in the unnamed fantasy world he lives in, defines definition. The book as a whole is very absurd, making many parts of it hard to follow because it goes out on such a tangent. However, the writing and the plot keeps the reader engaged and striving to look deeper into everything Nabokov says, expecting it to have another meaning. As the novel progresses, Cincinnatus starts to realize he can control his mind to such an extent that he can travel into his past, and control all of his actions. In fact, in almost every chapter, Cincinnatus relives a part of his life, imagines he is escaping the prison, and everybody is letting him, or even imagines somebody breaking him out. However, by the end of the chapter, Cincinnatus is always, sadly, back in his lonely cell. Also adding to the absurdity of the novel, Cincinnatus is never told his execution date, and whenever he asks, he is looked upon as though it was a ridiculous question. In addition to the absurdity, throughout the novel Cincinnatus is visited by various people. The guard on duty, who will randomly burst out into song and dance to try to keep Cincinnatus happy, his lawyer, who gives him an envelope with "case files" in it, who, after Cincinnatus tears the envelope in half, says his pardon may have been in there, and his in-laws, who try to make his situation better by moving into the cell. Altogether, the novel is a masterpiece, mixing the amazing writing and creativity of Nabokov with the absurdity and writing style of Kafka. I would recommend this book to any reader looking for a great read. However, be prepared for some very absurd, and often humorous situations, that may be hard to follow if you aren't paying close attention to the reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although Nabokov called this book a simple-stand alone piece of heart, 'A violin in a void,' this work explores the issues confronting artists in Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1930's. Nabokov writes masterfully, in a way that is neither didactic nor narrowly focused, allowing anyone who has an imagination or is prone to daydreaming to understand the problems of an individual versus society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The language, subtlety, and symbolism in this book make it a captivating read. The ending leaves you bereft but in a good way. When I read this book for the first time, I was disoriented with trying to figure out the world Nabokov created. Since then, I've read it a few more times and each time, I notice something I missed before.
ocgreg34 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In an unknown and abstract country, a man named Cincinnatus C. awaits death be beheading, convicted for the crime of gnostic turpitude. Spending his days confined to his cell, his jailers try everything in their power to convince Cincinnatus to be like everyone else. The director Rodrig Ivanovich wants him to play the part of the repentant prisoner. Rodion the jailer's feelings are hurt when Cincinnatus doesn't like the food he prepares. Even M'sieur Pierre, who pretends to be a fellow prisoner in the next cell while in fact serves as the executioner, determines to make friends with Cincinnatus and to have him follow the established rules of society. But poor Cincinnatus, he wants only two things: 1) a visit from his wife Marthe to explain his situation so that she can grieve and move on with her life, and 2) to know the date and time at which the execution is to take place because, after all, he is allowed that knowledge by law. While he waits, he begins to understand that the world around him is nothing more than pretense, a circus act to appease the masses, and that his rejection of what is expected and routine can b even more freeing than he thought possible.At first, I was put off by the story's setting. It's very absurdist, with jailers asking prisoners to waltz with them about their cells or Cincinnatus' visiting in-laws bringing all their furniture with them to his cell. But I'm glad I stuck with it to the end. Cincinnatus views his own world in a different way than his fellow countrymen, and that makes him dangerous. Their bizarre actions, instead of convincing Cincinnatus of the error of his ways, re-inforce his determination to be himself regardless of the consequences. As the hour of his execution approaches, his belief begins to punch through the artifice of the world around him, and he can see things as they truly are.To me, "Invitation to a Beheading" comes across as a statement of individuality: think your own thoughts and forge your own path in the world, even if that doesn't conform to society at large. After all, where would we be if those people didn't take a chance and stray outside the lines? The world would be a more boring place, indeed.
Rebecca.Jane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was strange, to say the least. Several times I had to re-read a page or a paragraph and ask myself "Did this really just happen? Where did that come from!?" Regardless, I enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it to any fan of Nabokov.
shawnd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel was written by Nabokov circa 1935 and bears little resemblance to Russian literature of that time (or any time). Nabokov left Russia at age 19 and fully embraced the West, and writes like a Western author, if such a claim can be made. Beheading is a surrealist, Kafka-esque novel firmly embedded in the Modernist movement. While Nabokov would probably love to think that this work is an original seed of Post-Modernism, Nabokov has produced something in keeping with the avante-garde of art. Seen in that specific light, as an example of literary Modernism in the 1930's, the work might be seen as a success. The book is so much like Kafka that Nabokov is compelled in this edition to write a forward to the book to explain that he did not know German when he wrote it, implying he had not read Kafka's The Trial. Beheading is very close to Kafka, and since it's not Russian, it's really not Kafka with Russian sensibilities, but rather Kafka with smoother and more artistic prose. At the end of the day, Beheading is an artistically flourished Kafka with some erotic themes one finds in Nabokov.The story itself follows a prisoner sentenced to death, with his offense being unclear as is his time of death. The prisoner struggles to understand the behavior of his wife, his attorney, his warden and others around him, as well as how to act and spend his final days. The novel becomes more and more surreal and the characters more intertwined as the story falls apart metaphorically and literally.
jfetting on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a bizarre little book! Hilarious in some parts, heartbreaking in others, brilliant throughout, with a neat little twist at the end. I was surprised, but it really makes perfect sense (and is maybe the only part of the novel that does). Nabokov's imagination never fails to impress.
k8_not_kate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a truly fantastic book. I know this is a bold statement, but I think it should be regarded as a classic!Invitation to a Beheading is the story of the imprisonment of Cinncinatus, a man who has been sentenced to death for a crime no one will actually mention. His time in prison devolves into a dream-like series of bizarre events as he struggles to comes to terms with the end of his life. In the end, the book is a powerful comment on submission and acceptance. I would recommend this novel to anyone.
SirRoger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Even better the second time around. The tragedy of the absurd is deeply felt.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found it impossible to emotionally connect to this book. It is unique, particularly for its time: surreal stream of consciousness, with characters who rather drift across the story with little impact, and a 'plot' without concern for cause or effect of anything. Cincinnatus, the book's protagonist, has been sentenced to death - without cause, and without much of an effort or even reaction from him. The book details the last three weeks of his life, and in this urgent juxtaposition of imminent death with the inanities of life, readers quickly lose the ability to grasp any meaning: in Cincinnatus's life or death. Like all texts about the absurdity of life, both interest and coherence are hard to sustain over a long story. So, nice job to Nabokov for the very novel creation of this story, but it really is not reader-friendly most of the time.
Magadri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Note: If you own the Vintage International edition of this book, do NOT read the back of the book before you read it. It spoils two very important plot points.Despite having the mystery and the end ruined for me, I still managed to enjoy this book very much. The story is bizarre and absurd, the characters are deliciously ridiculous, and Nabokov's prose is absolutely breathtaking in some parts. The story jumps around quite a bit, which may be distracting at first, but over time you learn to adapt and accept it as is. The story follows Cincinnatus during his last days in jail: his thoughts, his dreams and memories, and his relationships with the director, his jailer, and a new, very interesting fellow prisoner. The reasons I gave this book 4 rather than 5 stars are mainly that the ending was rather abrupt, and that I wish the characters had been just a little more rounded out.
bdamokos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is quite an absurd situation the protagonist Cincinattus finds himself in this book; it does remind me of Kafka, even though Nabokov states in the foreword that at the time of writing, he didn't have read him at the time.The communication barrier between Cincinnattus, the protagonist and his captors gives much of the suspense of the book, but it also makes it a harder read as we are left with the same questions as C. and we don't really get any concrete answers.For me this book wasn't as entertaining or interesting as the other books of Nabokov, I only read till the end because it was short and I have already paid for the whole book. I would reccommend this to the fans of Kafkian literature, but otherwise leave it at the end of your to-be-read list.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lolita will always be my favorite read of his but Invitation To A Beheafing is a close second.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love, love, LOVED IT!
GreenRex More than 1 year ago
I can't believe I just found out about this terrific writer. I read Lolita and decided to read an Invitation to a Beheading, but this is a sad story, and I love it.
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