Vladimir Nabokov and Marc Szeftel

Galya Diment

  • Published: 1997
  • Subject Listing: Slavic Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 256 pp., 30 illus. appendixes, notes, bibliog., index
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Series: A McLellan Book
  • Contents

In this wry, judiciously balanced, and thoroughly engaging book, Galya Diment explores the complicated and fascinating relationship between Vladimir Nabokov and his Cornell colleague Marc Szeftel who, in the estimate of many, served as the prototype for the gentle protagonist of the novel Pnin. She offers astute comments on Nabokov’s fictional process in creating Timofey Pnin and addresses hotly debated questions and long-standing riddles in Pnin and its history.

Between the two of them, Nabokov and Szeftel embodied much of the complexity and variety of the Russian postrevolution emigre experience in Europe and the United States. Drawing on previously unpublished letters and diaries as well as on interview with family, friends, and colleagues, Diment illuminates a fascinating cultural terrain.

Pniniad - the epic of Pnin - begins with Szeftel’s early life in Russia and ends with his years in Seattle at the University of Washington, turning pivotally upon the time in Szeftel’s and Nabokov’s lives intersected at Cornell. Nabokov apparently was both amused by and admiring of the innocence of his historian friend. Szeftel’s feelings towards Nabokov were also mixed, ranging from intense disappointment over rebuffed attempts to collaborate with Nabokov to persistent envy of Nabokov’s success and an increasing wistfulness over his own sense of failure.

Galya Diment is professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Washington and is the author, most recently, of A Russian Jew of Bloomsbury.

"Pniniad is an utterly absorbing, sad, and touching book." - Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

"Pniniad is not only a fine scholarly book but also a very good read, loaded with fascinating titbits about the Nabokovs, American Slavists and academic politics at prominent universities in the United States."-Slavinic and East European Review

"By (re)creating Szeftel through her sensitive treatment of the material, along with her obvious consideration and respect, Diment is able to relate the 'less successful' ©migr© experience. . . . Just as Nabokov, she does tell a story, and this story happens to be as poignant as the novel Pnin."-Canadian Slavonic Papers