Invitation to a Beheading

Invitation to a Beheading


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Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

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: 199,804
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.66(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 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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