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Priglashenie na kazn (audiobook in Russian)

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Cincinnatus, unable to fit into the world around him, has been reported to the authorities and sentenced to death for his strange, unrecognizable nature. Exploring the prison cell as he counts down his final days, Cincinnatus cannot even find out when his execution will occur and is troubled by the lack of control a condemned man has over his own life. Witty, satirical and Cincinnatus, unable to fit into the world around him, has been reported to the authorities and sentenced to death for his strange, unrecognizable nature. Exploring the prison cell as he counts down his final days, Cincinnatus cannot even find out when his execution will occur and is troubled by the lack of control a condemned man has over his own life. Witty, satirical and nightmarish, Invitation to a Beheading creates a dystopian and fantastical world of political punishment, identity and the unusual hope of a man may carry to his death.


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Cincinnatus, unable to fit into the world around him, has been reported to the authorities and sentenced to death for his strange, unrecognizable nature. Exploring the prison cell as he counts down his final days, Cincinnatus cannot even find out when his execution will occur and is troubled by the lack of control a condemned man has over his own life. Witty, satirical and Cincinnatus, unable to fit into the world around him, has been reported to the authorities and sentenced to death for his strange, unrecognizable nature. Exploring the prison cell as he counts down his final days, Cincinnatus cannot even find out when his execution will occur and is troubled by the lack of control a condemned man has over his own life. Witty, satirical and nightmarish, Invitation to a Beheading creates a dystopian and fantastical world of political punishment, identity and the unusual hope of a man may carry to his death.

30 review for Priglashenie na kazn (audiobook in Russian)

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Nabokov’s Cave In his allegory of the Cave, Plato suggests a limit on human knowledge: that we see only shadows of reality. Immanuel Kant went Plato one better two millennia later and claimed that we can’t even apprehend the shadows properly, that even these in their ‘true selves’ are beyond comprehension. Invitation to a Beheading offers an alternative to these classical philosophical, and inherently dismal and nihilistic, views. For Nabokov the world is not hidden beyond an epistemological veil Nabokov’s Cave In his allegory of the Cave, Plato suggests a limit on human knowledge: that we see only shadows of reality. Immanuel Kant went Plato one better two millennia later and claimed that we can’t even apprehend the shadows properly, that even these in their ‘true selves’ are beyond comprehension. Invitation to a Beheading offers an alternative to these classical philosophical, and inherently dismal and nihilistic, views. For Nabokov the world is not hidden beyond an epistemological veil. On the contrary, reality is so much in one’s face, “a tumult of truth,” so rampantly and fecundly ‘there,’ that it is effectively infinite. It is not erroneous perception that we experience but an abundance of perception that is too great to adequately describe. Nabokov’s equivalent of Plato’s Cave is a prison cell in a fortress, at some indeterminate time in the future. But this is no ordinary prison; nor does it contain an ordinary prisoner. The prison provides three squares a day and a good roof over the head of Cincinnatus, the condemned protagonist. This is only as to be expected. But Cincinnatus’s cell is described as ‘deluxe’; his food is the same quality as the director’s. And the prison houses an outstanding library of which he makes intensive use. The staff are kindly folk who look after his every physical need from entertainment to regular bathing. One could get attached to such a prison. Nabokov hints at the opinion that most do when he writes about “his [Cincinnatus’s] jailers, who in fact were everyone.” But Cincinnatus is nevertheless stressed. Not because of his death sentence, but because he can’t get a confirmation for the date on which it is to be executed. This he finds intolerable: “... the compensation for a death sentence is knowledge of the exact hour when one is to die. A great luxury, but one that is well earned. However, I am being left in that ignorance which is tolerable only to those living at liberty.” In short: Cincinnatus’s predicament is universal. Nevertheless his imprisonment and pending execution provide a sort of focused freedom for Cincinnatus. Among other things, it gives him time to dream, to recollect, and to write about his life. He can “see things clearly through the prison walls” that were previously invisible. And he feels driven to express them, “I have the feeling of boiling and rising, a tickling, which may drive you mad if you do not express it somehow.” But there is too much to express. Not just of his life, but of the life he has suppressed and the dreams, which is also part of his experiential reality, much of which he has forced himself to forget. Facing death, he feels nonetheless, “I am the one among you who is alive”. But his life is overwhelming in its detail and complexity. It is infinite. Even the biography of an oak tree obtained from the library consists of more than 3000 pages; and it is still incomplete. Therefore, “I have lived an agonizing life, and I would like to describe that agony to you – but I am obsessed by the fear that there will not be time enough,” he informs the reader. Cincinnatus’s justifiable conviction is for the crime of “gnostical turpitude.” The offense is not one of moral depravity nor a lack of discernment of good and evil. It is his persistent inability to appreciate conventional reality. Driven by either an inherent artistic muse or perhaps guilt on account of his previous attempts to conform, he must write, and write, and write, before it is too late - even though his writing must remain incomplete, composed of merely fragmentary descriptions from his imagination. The problem that Cincinnatus discovers as he pursues the expression of his perceptual overload is that the world is entirely mad. And not just mad, but evangelistically so. Everyone in it tries to convince him to be reasonable and submit to reality. In conversation, his warden is enticing. He might be reprieved. But Cincinnatus “does not understand that if he were now honestly to admit the error of his ways... honestly admit that he is fond of the same things as you and I,... if he were honestly to admit and repent –yes, repent –that is my point –then he could have some remote – I do not want to say hope, but nevertheless...” When he refuses he is rebuked with an apt biblical reference, “You offer him kingdoms, and he sulks.” Cincinnatus has no Freudian Death Wish. Quite the opposite. His fear of death overwhelms even his drive to write. Ultimately it is the conquering of this fear that gives him some sort of freedom. This is unlikely to be a pleasing ending for “the disciples of the Viennese witch-doctor [and] their grotesque world of communal guilt and progressive education.” Nor is it likely to be satisfying for those philosophers who contend that the world is alien to perceptive human beings.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    It is amazing how farcical this book is considering the ominous title but it is also amazing how tragic it is considering the omnipresent farce. Of course there is no better writer at manipulating our emotions than Vladimir Nabokov. In this novel, we are manipulated almost as much as Cincinnatus, the hero, whose emotions are played upon unmercifully not only by every character in the book but also by the author. Nabokov takes delight in using vocabulary and phrasing that seem perfectly innocent It is amazing how farcical this book is considering the ominous title but it is also amazing how tragic it is considering the omnipresent farce. Of course there is no better writer at manipulating our emotions than Vladimir Nabokov. In this novel, we are manipulated almost as much as Cincinnatus, the hero, whose emotions are played upon unmercifully not only by every character in the book but also by the author. Nabokov takes delight in using vocabulary and phrasing that seem perfectly innocent at first glance. It’s only moments later that the axe drops, and the axe drops often, as in those ‘curio’ Russian toys where the bear chops the block over and over. It might be a simple remark that is made to the hero about the slenderness of his neck, or a comment about the odd shadow cast on it by the light. It might be the description of a beautifully sharpened pencil, as long as the life of any man except Cincinnatus, and with an ebony gleam to each of its six facets, or it might be the mention of the river Strop which seemed to curve like a sickle across the valley. In fact that curving river was mentioned so frequently that I looked up the word ‘strop’ — and discovered that it is a strip of leather used to sharpen a blade. Nothing in this book is innocent. Not even Cincinnatus’s tendency to suffer from syncope or momentary lapses of consciousness. What’s the origin of that word, I wondered? Oh, right, to strike or cut off. And cope sounds like Kopf, the German for ‘head’. Not to mention the jokes the characters like to tell each other: ‘Take the word “anxiety”,’ Cincinnatus’s brother-in-law, the wit, was saying to him. ‘Now take away the word “tiny”, eh? Comes out funny, doesn’t it? Cincinnatus’s anxiety is actually less about the axe and more about knowing the moment it will fall. As a condemned man (but for what crime we are not told), he feels he has a right to the very thing that is the special privilege of the condemned: knowing the exact moment of death, and therefore how much time he has left. But everything in the book conspires against that knowledge in the most absurd fashion, the walls, with their arms around each other’s shoulders like a foursome discussing a square secret in inaudible whispers, the chairs that moved about by themselves, the interchangeable prison director and warden, the child who flits about like a butterfly, the greedy velvet spider with hazel eyes which somehow resembled the prisoner’s wife. And meanwhile there’s the absurdly interfering bong of the prison clock, it struck eleven times, thought for a moment, and struck once more, or it struck some unknown hour, now with banal dreariness, now with mounting exultation, finally with a hoarse rattle. Some aspects of this story reminded me of Gogol’s The Overcoat or Diary of a Madman. In fact, more than in previous Nabokovs I’ve read, this book reminded me very much of Russian literature. Gogol’s shadow was all around but also Dostoyevsky’s. I frequently thought of Rodion Raskolnikov’s room in Crime and Punishment, and of all the strange people coming and going while Rodion lay silent and impervious to their efforts to make him speak. And there just happens to be a character here called Rodion. Of all the absurdities in the book, not the least absurd is the situation of the reader at the beginning. The first page reads like it should be the last: the death sentence pronounced on the prisoner. What motivation have we to read on, knowing the outcome in advance? But we do, because, like Cincinnatus, we cannot resist hope. As for the last page, when I finally got to it, I jumped up and ruffled my hair! I hope Nabokov’s ghost is happy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    We are all sentenced to death right from the start… right at birth. And all our life we wait for an execution which will come, sooner or later… And instead of the clear and precise work that is needed, instead of a gradual preparation of the soul for that morning when it will have to get up, when – when you, soul, will be offered the executioner’s pail to wash in – Instead, you involuntarily indulge in banal senseless dreams of escape – alas, of escape… While it may seem at first that Invitation We are all sentenced to death right from the start… right at birth. And all our life we wait for an execution which will come, sooner or later… And instead of the clear and precise work that is needed, instead of a gradual preparation of the soul for that morning when it will have to get up, when – when you, soul, will be offered the executioner’s pail to wash in – Instead, you involuntarily indulge in banal senseless dreams of escape – alas, of escape… While it may seem at first that Invitation to a Beheading echoes The Trial by Franz Kafka actually this novel is its opposite… And in fact Vladimir Nabokov contemplates the nature of earthly existence – everyone is free to turn one’s existence into a gaol and live as a prisoner of conventions or escape conformity and enjoy true inner liberty…

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    3.5 stars Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, which largely takes place within the cramped confinements of a jail cell is possibly his most indubitable examination of a theme which seemed to have followed him throughout his career. That being the idea of a citizen who aspires to be different, the person who fails to assimilate, and the ways in which society either forces that divergent voice to join in unison, or ends up extinguishes it. I have loved most of his work, simply down to that superla 3.5 stars Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, which largely takes place within the cramped confinements of a jail cell is possibly his most indubitable examination of a theme which seemed to have followed him throughout his career. That being the idea of a citizen who aspires to be different, the person who fails to assimilate, and the ways in which society either forces that divergent voice to join in unison, or ends up extinguishes it. I have loved most of his work, simply down to that superlative prose, but this one felt a little different from the rest, with a bit of Kafka thrown in, and also George Orwell springs to mind. It also featured less of his dark sense of humour than some of his other novels, and as a whole, even though I wouldn't consider this near his best work, it's still Nabokov, and having read this twice now, I would say it was better the second thing around. The set-up is quite simple - a man called Cincinnatus C awaits for the day of his execution, and through his eyes Nabokov demonstrates not only the mechanics of a totalitarian state, but the way in which any one of us can have our dignity stripped by the force of conformity. All Cincinnatus wants to know is when the time has come when he is going to die, but he is instead played around with mentally in one big game. He is constantly irritated by the jailers as they go about eating his food, turning his cell into their own office, trying to crack jokes, with one even wanting to dance with him to lighten the mood. And the thing is, they never at any time act with any cruel intentions towards him. They are seemingly befuddled by Cincinnatus, and vice-versa. Through their sprightly antics, Cincinnatus simply refuses to accept this role of playmate, and is holding out to his last breath against indignity. Through the narrative (which, when I think about it could have worked as a play) Nabokov explores the ways in which a society can force mortification upon its members. Having no means of escape from his incarceration, all Cincinnatus can do is keep an astute stiff upper lip, and doggedly refuse to be a pawn in the tomfoolery of others. He, like any non-conformist in a society full of conformists, is in a no-win situation. If he conforms — plays his role in the little games that the jailers construct for him — he loses his dignity. If he refuses to conform he is treated like a child and must abide by in vexation. Nabokov creates an absurd but scary vision of an irrational world, and while the nature of the writing here is somewhat Kafkaesque, Nabokov never actually read any Kafka when he wrote Invitation to a Beheading. In addition, neither Kafka, nor any writers dabbling with these themes combine their philosophy with surrealism in the same way or to the same degree as does Nabokov does in this novel. He is also clever in the way, that under the surface, there is more going on than meets the eye. While I liked it, it's not anywhere near his best work.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paquita Maria Sanchez

    So I can't do what I wanted to do, and smother you with quotes from this novel, shrouding you in a lovely blanket of Nabokov's shrewd, simile-dripping observations about the more esoteric subtleties of human behavior and the emotions which inspire such behavior, all circled by and interwoven with the ornate latticework that is his tendency toward purple prose which he frequently hammers to bits with smash-cut asides and stern, terse sentence fragments presented like mantras for emotional yucky s So I can't do what I wanted to do, and smother you with quotes from this novel, shrouding you in a lovely blanket of Nabokov's shrewd, simile-dripping observations about the more esoteric subtleties of human behavior and the emotions which inspire such behavior, all circled by and interwoven with the ornate latticework that is his tendency toward purple prose which he frequently hammers to bits with smash-cut asides and stern, terse sentence fragments presented like mantras for emotional yucky stuff. I'm sure that made no sense, but I am currently malnourished and over-coffee'd, so it will have to do for now. You know, it's Nabokov. Anyway, the reason that I can't quote this book until my fingers bleed is because the Austin library system asked for a 'break.' It's not over, but they do want some time alone, so they blocked my account and demanded that I return my million overdue items immediately, which I proceeded to do on my way home from work after finishing this novel. Nabokov went with them, the bastard. When I can afford to pay off a few bucks of my debt, they will take me back in their loving arms, but for now I guess I will just have to finish the many 500+ page novels that I own and have read sporadic chunks of. You care about all this, trust me. So, Nabokov. I can say this without the book in front of me: this was a deviation from the more edit-heavy Nabokov I am used to. There are paragraphs which bleed over pages and pages, predominantly consisting of internal monologues lacking in proper punctuation or breaks in thought, sprawling rambles of collaged paranoid notions and both frightening and hysterical imagery, over-dissections of spiderwebs and furniture and the jailer's jiggly jowls, hallucinations described in vivid detail, surreal imagery presented as hard fact, questions unanswered. Pomo Kafka, brought to you by Vladimir Nabokov, Inc., via time machine. Basically, this is quite an experimental work for the man as I know him from reading just four of his novels, and in such is a rewarding and perception-bending reading experience for someone who already found him to be a voice of reason in a rushing river of nonsense. The best I can gather from this work is that it is a meditation on feeling outside of the society surrounding you, or more specifically, how Nabokov felt outside of the society surrounding Nabokov, the disparity between how he was expected to behave and create and how he felt he should (and therefore tended to) behave and create. At the risk of feeding that somewhat obnoxious aforementioned 'Kafka-esque' notion people are always throwing out there about anyone incorporating magical realism, ambiguity, and metaphor to a fictional work, I must confess that it did remind me, in theme, of A Hunger Artist: a man doomed to fester away in a cage because he is misunderstood, yet refuses to conform his notions of self and presentation of said self to the more shallow expectations of the world at large. Rather than cave to the pressures of the popular appetite for entertainment, he chooses to jump on his sword in the service of both his pride and his integrity. Right at this moment, I am guilty of something which always bugs me in reviews and, more commonly, troll-y comments: the assumption that the voice of the narrator or protagonist is necessarily the voice, the mind-frame, opinions, and lifestyle choices of the author, every single time indisputably, but here I feel pretty alright about it. To me at least, this sounds like Nabokov discussing what it is to be Nabokov. On that note, let me be clear about one thing: he doesn't fuck any children.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Приглашение на казнь = Invitation to a Beheading, Vladimir Nabokov Invitation to a Beheading is a novel by Russian American author Vladimir Nabokov. It was originally published in Russian from 1935 to 1936 as a serial in Contemporary Notes (Sovremennye zapiski), a Russian émigré magazine. In 1938, the work was published in Paris. The novel opens with Cincinnatus C., a thirty-year-old teacher and the protagonist, being sentenced to death by beheading for the crime "gnostical turpitude" in twenty d Приглашение на казнь = Invitation to a Beheading, Vladimir Nabokov Invitation to a Beheading is a novel by Russian American author Vladimir Nabokov. It was originally published in Russian from 1935 to 1936 as a serial in Contemporary Notes (Sovremennye zapiski), a Russian émigré magazine. In 1938, the work was published in Paris. The novel opens with Cincinnatus C., a thirty-year-old teacher and the protagonist, being sentenced to death by beheading for the crime "gnostical turpitude" in twenty days' time (though this timescale is undisclosed to Cincinnatus). After being taken back to a "fortress" by the cheerful jailer Rodion, Cincinnatus talks to his lawyer and dances with Rodion, before inscribing his thoughts on paper, as a spider dangles from the ceiling. Throughout the plot, Cincinnatus repeatedly inquires of various characters about the date of his execution, but to no avail. Cincinnatus is displeased to learn from the prison director, Rodrig, that he will be getting a cellmate. Cincinnatus soon meets Emmie, Rodrig's young daughter, and then reads the foolish prisoner's rules etched into the wall, flips through a book catalogue, and is brought by Rodrig down the hall to observe his incoming cellmate through a peephole. ... تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه می سال 1992 میلادی عنوان: دعوت به مراسم گردن زنی؛ نویسنده: ولادیمیر ناباکوف؛ مترجم: احمد خزاعی؛ 1370؛ عنوان: دعوت به مراسم گردن‌زنی؛ نویسنده: ولادیمیر ناباکوف؛ مترجم: لادن کاظمی، بابک حقایق، تهران: انتشارات قاصدک صبا، 1396؛ داستان در داخل زندان و سلول مجرم جریان دارد.؛ مجرم «سین سیناتوس»، به جرم متفاوت بودن با دیگران (شفاف نبودن، نفوذ ناپذیری)؛ محکوم به اعدام میشود.؛ حکم اعدام طبق قانون درگوشی به او ابلاغ میشود، و او را به سوی سلول زندان، در یک دژ عظیم میبرند.؛ زندانبان برای باز کردن در سلول تمام کلیدها را امتحان میکند، و وقتی در سلول باز میشود، وکیل مدافع داخل سلول به انتظار او نشسته است!؛ زندانی از دیگران میخواهد تنهایش بگذارند، و همه تعظیم کنان میروند!؛ روی میز وسط سلول، کاغذهای سفید، و مداد تراشیده شده، گذاشته شده است، زندانبان داخل میشود و پیشنهاد رقص والس میدهد، و آن دو با هم در سلول و راهروها میرقصند!؛ مدیر زندان خطابه ی رسمی خوش آمدگویی میخواند، و نگران غذا نخوردن زندانی است...؛ و زندانی هم در انتظار زمان مراسم گردن زنی که زمانش نامشخص است...؛ راوی دانای کل، پاراگراف دوم را این گونه آغاز میکند: «باری به پایان نزدیک میشویم.؛ قسمت چپ رمان، که هنوز مزه اش را نچشیده ایم، و به هنگام خواندن دلنشینمان، غیر ارادی، میسنجیم ببینیم هنوز خیلی از آن مانده یا نه.؛ (و انگشت هایمان ذوق میکرد که از حجمش کم نشده است)، ناگهان، و بی هیچ دلیل، کاملاً نازک میشود: چند دقیقه سریع خواندن، و سرازیری، و چه وحشتناک!...؛ تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 13/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    “I suppose the pain of parting will be red and loud.” Okay not better than Lolita, but I don't know why it isn't Nabokov's second most read novel here. He himself said that while he held the greatest affection for Lolita, it was Invitation to a Beheading that he held in the greatest esteem. Just check out this for an opening sentence: "In accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus C. in a whisper." And there you have in the two quotes the color re “I suppose the pain of parting will be red and loud.” Okay not better than Lolita, but I don't know why it isn't Nabokov's second most read novel here. He himself said that while he held the greatest affection for Lolita, it was Invitation to a Beheading that he held in the greatest esteem. Just check out this for an opening sentence: "In accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus C. in a whisper." And there you have in the two quotes the color red, loudness, and secrecy - in short a feel of Soviet Russia. But Nabokov doesn't want you to think of Soviet Russia while reading it. And it is in protogonist, Cincinnatus' crime we discover what it is really about. He was "accused of the most terrible of crimes, gnostical turpitude, so rare and so unutterable that it was necessary to use circumlocutions like “impenetrability,” “opacity,” “occlusion” - the crime, in brief of being someone difficult to know. That could a crime in Soviet Russia too, which wanted the public and private life to be same, which effectively means no privacy, no secrets etc. But C, is not shallow like others. He is conscious of depths in himself that he himself hasn't penetrated. And so. this crime, that is, the lack of transparency, was to show up sooner or later. He is accused, found guilty, and an execution is ordered. The sentence is welcomed with smiles, masses seem to derive a kind of sadistic pleasure from idea of an execution. The ease and lack of seruousness with which people treat him and his sentence is appaling. In such a world, C. finds himself, an outsider, looking for escape. Smacks of Kafka's alienated characters? Is but there is no cause-and-effect relationship. Apparently, Nabokov hadn't heard of him when he wrote it. It is hardly saying anything new that people who are different (hardly a virtue in itself, but not a vice either), who don't have that false virtue of being normal, the golden mean of mediocrity in all qualities are often persecuted by society in all parts of the world - and even where they are not they do always feel persecuted - "I am here through an error—not in this prison, specifically—but in this whole terrible, striped world; a world which seems not a bad example of amateur craftsmanship, but is in reality calamity, horror, madness, error—and look, the curio slays the tourist, the gigantic carved bear brings its wooden mallet down upon me. " The images of golden cage and a spider devouring its prey add to this atmosphere where feeling of being unnessarily persecuted gathers strength. And he tries hard, hard to make sense of this world around him "Involuntarily yielding to the temptation of logical development, involuntarily (be careful, Cincinnatus!) forging into a chain all the things that were quite harmless as long as they remained unlinked, he inspired the meaningless with meaning and the lifeless with life." But it is useless, all his attempts to make himself understood by these shallow people (or at least, shallow to him) fail: "I myself picture all this so clearly, but you are not I, and therein lies the irreparable calamity." since he is surrounded by people who are more puppets than human beings - full of acting and role plays. “I am surrounded by some sort of wretched specters, not by people. They torment me as can torment only senseless visions, bad dreams, dregs of delirium, the drivel of nightmares and everything that passes down here for real life.” Yes, there seems to be a superiority complex about him but that is an understandable reaction in someone who hasn't met a like minded soul in his life - it is difficult tobe always understanding when no one understands you. There is nothing for him but to scorn inwardly as his prison mate charges into generally admired eloquence saying cliche things with cliche phrases or his executioner who is a sort of celebrity. And so, C. turns to the last resort of all those misunderstood souls - writing "I am chained to this table like a cup to a drinking fountain, and will not rise till I have said what I want. I repeat (gathering new momentum in the rhythm of repetitive incantations), I repeat: there is something I know, there is something I know, there is something … When still, a child, living still in a canary-yellow, large, cold house where they were preparing me and hundreds of other children for secure nonexistence as adult dummies, into which all my coevals turned without effort or pain; already then, in those accursed days, amid rag books and brightly painted school materials and soul-chilling drafts, I knew without knowing, I knew without wonder, I knew as one knows oneself, I knew what it is impossible to know—and, I would say, I knew it even more clearly than I do now. " but even that doesn't console his soul: "The thought, when written down, becomes less oppressive, but some thoughts are like a cancerous tumor: you express is, you excise it, and it grows back worse than before.” “...All my best words are deserters and do not answer the trumpet call, and the remainder are cripples.” BIG SPOILER AHEAD READER DISCRESTION IS ADVISED The twist in the end suggests that C. was a willing participitant of his own execution - there is something to think about for those who find themselves presecuted by the world for being different.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    I know it irritated Nabokov when his novel was compared to that of other authors, in particular to Kafka’s The Trial (1915) and/or The Castle (1926), since as he claimed in his Foreword, he did not know anything about the Czech’s work when he wrote his novel in 1934. My Kafka remains at the very back of my mind; years have passed since I read him and the impressions have receded, so even without Nabokov’s comment I would not necessarily have thought of him. But I did think, strongly, of Gogol, f I know it irritated Nabokov when his novel was compared to that of other authors, in particular to Kafka’s The Trial (1915) and/or The Castle (1926), since as he claimed in his Foreword, he did not know anything about the Czech’s work when he wrote his novel in 1934. My Kafka remains at the very back of my mind; years have passed since I read him and the impressions have receded, so even without Nabokov’s comment I would not necessarily have thought of him. But I did think, strongly, of Gogol, for its absurd element and for the humour, and now that I have just begun Dostoevsky's The Double , I can also see a certain literary air flowing through these Russian writers. The other work I thought of, and this time not because of the absurd setting, but because of its metaphysical content and its retake of Plato’s Cave was the much later Saramago’s A Caverna (2000). Both are however very different. Saramago’s has no feeling of enclosure – just the striving for knowledge; his potter Cipriano evokes ideas of ‘The Maker’. While Nabokov’s Cincinnatus, in spite of avidly borrowing books from the prison’s library, has one major obsession that he wants to learn: the date for his execution. Indeed, one of the pulsating forces of the narration is precisely Cincinnatus’ uncertainty, which made me think in a somewhat ironic manner that as a reader who gradually turns the pages of a book part of the tension cannot be shared with the protagonist as one can feel in one’s fingers that the end is approaching. On the metaphysical theme I will not detain myself any further; it could fill the pages of several PhD theses. It possibly interests me less than the literary issues that absorbed his Real Life, which I read recently. Reading this during the dreadful pandemic, against which we have little to do other than to imprison ourselves, and in which our known society has become a shadow of its previous presence, I found that I was a less well-disposed reader for these issues than I would have been had I been sitting in a pandemic-free cave. Turning my attention then to the literary, I felt that I was again facing elusive shadows, for apart from the (obvious) literary links pointed at already, in a typical Nabokov manner, there must have been many conscious literary allusions, that regrettably were too dim for me to make some sense out of them. Nonetheless, in spite of these obstacles, I enjoyed the novel, and most particularly the actual writing. Even if this is a translation, it was transposed into English by Dimitri, Vladimir’s son, and with the father supervising every word choice peeking over the shoulder of his son. Especially I relished the imagery of transparency versus density; as the pervasive presence of doubles (doppelgänger); the portrayal of a Totalitarian state (which again reading it during the pandemic had a greater resonance) (view spoiler)[ Even though Nabokov also explicitly denied the political content (shadows of intentions again – who can believe him when he wrote this in the later 1930s in Berlin? (hide spoiler)] . I shall then continue my gradual exploration of Nabokov’s works. They will be signposts in my reading future.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Forrest

    Don't fall into the lazy-readers' trap of thinking that Invitation to a Beheading is just some pastiche of Kafka. This was my misconception for the first 70 pages or so. Nabokov claims not to have read The Trial before writing this work, and I am inclined to believe him, given the limited availability of Kafka's text outside of the German language at that time (Nabokov did not read German). But the close kinship these texts have is very apparent . . . . . . at first. It is not too long, however, Don't fall into the lazy-readers' trap of thinking that Invitation to a Beheading is just some pastiche of Kafka. This was my misconception for the first 70 pages or so. Nabokov claims not to have read The Trial before writing this work, and I am inclined to believe him, given the limited availability of Kafka's text outside of the German language at that time (Nabokov did not read German). But the close kinship these texts have is very apparent . . . . . . at first. It is not too long, however, before Nabokov's softer "touch" becomes apparent. The protagonist, Cincinnatus, is held captive under what may or may not be a trumped-up charge that really is not a charge at all, or at least not one that has a slippery definition, if any definition at all. Some readers excoriate his lack of emotion, his stupidity, but I felt some deep pity for the man. Again, things are not quite as they appear on the surface. A more careful reading reveals a man who is paralyzed by his fear of execution, but who buffers himself from that fear by probing for the answer to the question "when?". This dissociation of emotion is Cincinnatus' central conceit. But what appears on the surface as a lack of emotion is really a manifestation of his subconscious attempts to stifle the fear of death within him. By asking the question "when?" and receiving no answer, his attempts to know when "his time" will come serve to heighten his fears, rather than ameliorate them . . . . . . at first. The style throughout is varied. If pinned down to use one word to describe the oeuvre of the work, I would use "dreamlike". In fact, Cincinnatus, who sometimes acts as the directly stream-of-conscious narrator (but only sometimes), himself admits his penchant for dream: But then I have long since grown accustomed to the thought that what we call dreams is semi-reality, the promise of reality, a foreglimpse and a whiff of it; that is, they contain, in a very vague, diluted state, more genuine reality than our vaunted waking life which, in its turn, is semi-sleep, an evil drowsiness into which penetrate in grotesque disguise the sounds and sights of the real world, flowing beyond the periphery of the mind. This preference for the dream-state is another defense mechanism used by Cincinnatus to push away the angst brought on by his very real situation. Through this intentional dulling of the waking world's reality, Cincinattus shields himself from the lingering background horror of his sentence . . . . . . at first. But one of the more poignant scenes, for me, a heartbreaking scene, wherein Cecilia C., a woman who may or may not be his actual mother, enters the cell to speak with him, heralds the implosion of his shields, not by crushing his hopes. Not initially. But by giving him hope. Hope here, is the enemy, and ultimately, it opens the abyss of disappointment beneath him. As part of their awkward conversation, he asks "What's the point of all this? Don't you know that one of these days, perhaps tomorrow . . ." He suddenly noticed the expression in Cecilia C.'s eyes - just for an instant, an instant - but it was as if something real, unquestionable (in this world, where everything was subject to question), had passed through, as if a corner of this horrible life had curled up, and there was a glimpse of the lining. In his mother's gaze, Cincinnatus suddenly saw that ultimate, secure, all-explaining and from-all-protecting spark that he knew how to discern in himself also. What was this spark so piercingly expressing now? It does not mater what - call it horror, or pity . . . but rather let us say this: the spark proclaimed such a tumult of truth that Cincinnatus's soul could not help leaping for joy. The instant flashed and was gone. Cecilia C. got up, making an incredible little gesture, namely, holding her hands apart with index fingers extended, as if indicating size - the length, say, of a babe . . . Then she immediately began fussing, picking up from the floor her plump black bag, adjusting the lining of her pocket. "There now," she said, in her former prattling tone, "I've stayed a while and now I'll be going. Eat my candy. I've overstayed. I'll be going, it's time." The solemnity of this scene contrasts sharply with the tone of bureaucratic silliness that pervades the actions of the government officials throughout. There are too many such instances to mention here. Suffice it to say that the utter ridiculousness of these antagonists are somewhat reminiscent of Toole's Confederacy of Dunces . This is yet more evidence of Nabokov's ability to write in several "voices," startlingly different, yet of a piece. At one point, my reading notes comment on Chapter 8: "Beautiful angst, like Beckett and Calvino conspiring on a stream of consciousness riff of awe with baroque frills" - a contrast to the whiffs of Ubu Roi that I occasionally smelled while reading. Which just goes to show Nabokov's skill in switching from tone to tone in the same novel while maintaining a feeling of wholeness. The man can WRITE! Often, though, I found myself wishing that David Lynch might do the world a favor and offer up a cinematic version of Invitation to a Beheading. He would be one of the few directors who could actually pull it off. Lynch's ability to portray what I will call "timeslips" on the big screen would be needed and tested. For example, imagine who you would film the following, a scene wherein Cincinnatus is escorted to a "farewell visit" with the city officials: This nocturnal promenade which had promised to be so rich with sad, carefree, singing, murmuring impressions - for what is a recollection, if not the soul of an impression? - proved in reality to be vague and insignificant and flashed by so quickly as happens only amid very familiar surroundings, in the dark, when the varicolored fractions of day are replaced by the integers of night. Many have called this novel a work of existentialism. And this is not incorrect. However, it is not a nihilistic work. What starts out floundering in captivity and darkness, with an increasing fear of inevitable doom billowing up into storm clouds in the background, resolves (a word you will rarely hear being used to describe a work of existentialist literature) into a manifesto of self-sufficiency ("By myself," becomes Cincinnatus's refrain) and a profound statement on grasping one's own destiny, embracing it, and stepping off into the unknown, with confidence and surety of purpose, with full freedom of being one's self . . . . . . at last.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stela

    The Light at the End of the Cave It is not difficult to see why Nabokov was accused of plagiarism when Invitation to a Beheading was first published. At a first view and a very shallow first reading (or, let’s not be mean and say, in Eco's terms, at a first level reading) it is indeed weirdly similar to The Trial, either in the plot construction, the main character attitude and the theme. However there are so many differences that save the book from being somehow a sequel of Kafka’s novel and The Light at the End of the Cave It is not difficult to see why Nabokov was accused of plagiarism when Invitation to a Beheading was first published. At a first view and a very shallow first reading (or, let’s not be mean and say, in Eco's terms, at a first level reading) it is indeed weirdly similar to The Trial, either in the plot construction, the main character attitude and the theme. However there are so many differences that save the book from being somehow a sequel of Kafka’s novel and put it on the general shelf of masterpieces with common themes – alienation and absurd of the existence that the author’s statement, that he was not familiar with Kafka’s works at the time, rings definitely true. On the one hand, whereas K.’s drama is generated by an accusation he is informed of but never told what it is, Cincinnatus knows very well what crime he was accused of: “the gnostic turpitude” of being opaque in a transparent world, real in a dream, solid among shades – in a word, different: I am here through an error – not in this prison specifically – but in this whole, terrible, striped world; a world which seems not a bad example of amateur craftsmanship, but is in reality calamity, horror, madness, error – and look, the curio slays the tourist, the gigantic carved bear brings its wooden mallet down upon me. Therefore, while K. is singularized only by his unknown crime, Cincinnatus is unique from the beginning; a stranger among strangers and this is why he will stand tall when the world crumbles around him whereas K. dies “like a dog”, killed by his own kin. On the other hand, while The Trial satirizes bureaucracy and was seen as a grim premonition of the Holocaust, Invitation to a Beheading even though can be read as a satire against totalitarianism is more than that: it is a reinterpretation of the myth of the cave. Like a Plato’s hero on his way towards knowledge, Cincinnatus grows tired of watching the shadows on the walls, and longs to discover who and what generated them: It exists, my dream world, it must exist since sure there must be an original of the clumsy copy. The book describes mainly the struggle within the hero (by using the motive of the Romantic double), between the survival instinct that pushes him to act normal, to integrate, to mimic the others in order to forever remain chained in the apparent world and the call for knowledge that lures him out of the cage: Involuntarily yielding to the temptation of logical development, involuntarily (be careful, Cincinnatus!) forging into a chain all the things that were quite harmless as long as they remained unlinked, he inspired the meaningless with meaning and the lifeless with life. A world where even “Socrates must decrease”, maybe not real but not less oppressive, since everyone is a dummy, since the whole life is painted on a cardboard, a world where the appearance is taken for essence and the shadows claim to be the solid reality denying altogether any universe outside the cave. A world of imitations, whose theatrical falsity is depicted in that specific, unmistakable Russian way, with big gestures and highfalutin words and pitiful meaningless, a world that collapses into itself the very minute the hero leaves it, in a final image strangely distressing and triumphant at the same time: Everything was coming apart. Everything was falling. A spinning wind was picking up and whirling: dust, rags, chips of painted wood, bits of gilded plaster, pasteboard bricks, posters; an arid gloom fleeted; and amidst the dust, and the falling things, and the flapping scenery, Cincinnatus made his way in that direction where, to judge by the voices, stood beings akin to him. Is literature considered, Plato-style, a second-hand reality, an imitation of imitation? Is Cincinnatus the artist who struggles to give life to his work only to be imprisoned and almost destructed by it? Or, on the contrary, is art the only reality and life a mere imitation the hero frees himself of? So many challenging questions, but at the end of the day who cares, for an answer, anyway? As long as masterpieces like this one will continue to emerge…

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marc Kozak

    I have played the piano since I was three years old. Thanks to the encouragement of my family and long hours of practice, I have been lucky enough to play large functions, concerts, and sold-out rock shows at venues I grew up dreaming of playing at. I have worked with truly great musicians, and been a part of many professional recordings. It's fostered a life-long love and appreciation for music, and I feel blessed to have had the experiences I've had. But I have never written a song in my entire I have played the piano since I was three years old. Thanks to the encouragement of my family and long hours of practice, I have been lucky enough to play large functions, concerts, and sold-out rock shows at venues I grew up dreaming of playing at. I have worked with truly great musicians, and been a part of many professional recordings. It's fostered a life-long love and appreciation for music, and I feel blessed to have had the experiences I've had. But I have never written a song in my entire life. I grew up loving to write, spending hours as a child composing ridiculous sports and science-fiction stories. My nose is always in a book, and my parents encouraged me to read anything I could get my hands on. I enjoy writing so much that I went to college for English and Journalism, reporting for newspapers and enjoying poetry and creative writing courses. My professional experience consists entirely of jobs requiring me to create written content, and hopefully it always will. I've wanted to write a novel since I was 10. But I have not written one piece of creative original material since I graduated six years ago. It's not that I haven't tried. One night not too long ago I locked myself in a piano studio for hours, with nothing but 88 keys, a sheet of blank paper and a pencil. Nothing came out of it but things that sounded like songs already written. I've attempted to write song lyrics, blog posts, short stories - but nothing that has avoided the trash can or the delete button. I can't do it. I don't know why. It doesn't seem fair. I love the creative arts so much, and have practiced them almost all my life, but I have nothing to show for it. I'm extremely proud of the collaborative things I have done, but I just have this continually growing worry that I'll never be able to create something myself. I don't know how many New Years resolutions have been along the lines of "THIS year I'll record some songs" or "THIS year I'll try and publish something." Years continue to pass. After some thought, I realize that I'm my own worst enemy. I don't even want to start something unless it's an idea so brilliant, a style so original, a thought so unheard of, that it can be compared to nothing; that it will be something that totally and completely expresses the uniqueness that I (not-so-humbly, I admit) think I have inside myself. So whenever any kind of inspiration hits, it's almost immediately dismissed as a parody, a copy, inferior. It's made me almost stop trying altogether. And so years continue to pass. And then I read Invitation to a Beheading. Cincinnatus C. is arrested and sentenced to death for not fitting in, for failing to become a part of society. Cincinnatus, who wants to express himself so badly, but can't do it because no one will tell him how much time he has left, and he doesn't want to start unless he knows there is time to express himself properly. And then I read chapter 9: ". . . and in the end the logical thing would be to give up and I would give up if I were laboring for a reader today, but as there is in the world not a single human who can speak my language; or, more simply, not a single human who can speak; or, even more simply, not a single human; I must think only of myself, of that force which urges me to express myself. I repeat: there is something I know, there is something I know, there is something..." And I cried on the bus. While the themes of this novel aren't exactly in line with my own writer's block, I couldn't help but get caught up in the desperation of Cincinnatus, as the world around him got crazier and crazier, and his hopes were continually dashed until it was almost the end of him. Almost the end. And hopefully, like Cincinnatus, I can discover that something that I know.

  12. 4 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    Fifty pages in, I feel like I've given this a good shake and I can move on. You have to care about something when you read a book: the story, a character, maybe even the technique. Something, at any rate. Nothing comes to mind for this one. While Nabokov stated in an interview that of all his novels he held the greatest affection for Lolita, it was Invitation to a Beheading that he held in the greatest esteem, he said at the same time: My advice to a budding literary critic would be as follows. Fifty pages in, I feel like I've given this a good shake and I can move on. You have to care about something when you read a book: the story, a character, maybe even the technique. Something, at any rate. Nothing comes to mind for this one. While Nabokov stated in an interview that of all his novels he held the greatest affection for Lolita, it was Invitation to a Beheading that he held in the greatest esteem, he said at the same time: My advice to a budding literary critic would be as follows. Learn to distinguish banality. Remember that mediocrity thrives on "ideas." Beware of the modish message. Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is not your own footprint. Ignore allegories. By all means place the "how" above the "what" but do not let it be confused with the "so what." Rely on the sudden erection of your small dorsal hairs. Do not drag in Freud at this point. All the rest depends on personal talent. What a wanker. I know I'm in the wild here, not kowtowing to the idea of Nabokov, but the time will come where he is reassessed and found wanting. As far as I can see, he is too clever by half. One needs more than intellect to make writing work, to make it other than banal. He's not only a wanker, but a darn smug one and one wonders why. It isn't enough to pepper everything you write with corny sexual metaphor. Speaking of which, I feel like, as a consequence of reading the first pages of this, my dorsal hairs couldn't get it up with a dose of viagra now. Tim Winton, get me over this unhappy affair. Cloudstreet is my recovery play.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Eh?Eh!

    The writing is pretty. Not the right word but I'm too lazy to use the thesaurus. Effective? It was simple but I found my imagination engaged. There was a passage (one of the many) where Cincinnatus was describing his cell, and as his mind wandered my wandered also, not from lack of interest or boredom. I read it over maybe five times before I could bring myself to move on. This book made me scratch the right side of my head, the underdeveloped nearly concave side, in confusion. My readings usuall The writing is pretty. Not the right word but I'm too lazy to use the thesaurus. Effective? It was simple but I found my imagination engaged. There was a passage (one of the many) where Cincinnatus was describing his cell, and as his mind wandered my wandered also, not from lack of interest or boredom. I read it over maybe five times before I could bring myself to move on. This book made me scratch the right side of my head, the underdeveloped nearly concave side, in confusion. My readings usually (besides the floof) have direct practical application, functionality, numbers...none of which are required when it comes to Ahrt.* It reminds me of a glass vase display I saw a long time ago, where the curves of the vases were visible but they had been pulled apart while still molten so that the halves were joined by drooping strands; I'd thought of Venus flytraps with salivary strands but the Ahrtist’s blurb spoke of representing urban deterioration and the torturous agony of our separation from nature...huh? It also reminds me of this ceramic display of heads with phallic noses (ceramic Ahrtists love phalluses) that appeared to be crudely and haphazardly thrown together; but a closer inspection showed careful detailing and my initial reaction of "my four year old could make that!" (if I’d had a four year old) changed into "that's pretty cool" (the Ahrtist's blurb spoke of childhood memories of faces...Ahrtists....) Literature is like that glass and ceramic to me, where I often try to take too literal an interpretation and miss its worth. Since I can't block out the over-literal tendency, I have two thoughts on what this story means. "Means." 1) One heck of a description of writer's block. Not an original thought since it fell out of C's difficulty with writing a letter. The cell and interchangeable jailers represent publishers who pressure for a cookie-cutter action bestseller, the unfaithful wife is the bestseller plot who gives herself to others while C dawdles (Dan Brown?), the crime is wanting to write Ahrt. Eh? 2) A sinister allegory on social conformity. Again, not original since the book kept referring to his difference from others, an "opaqueness." I do think I'm missing the point. The significance of the mother's visit and Emmie? The oak novel and the draft in the cell becoming a leafy breeze with an acorn dropping out of nowhere? The references to things being off-center like the peonies being placed off-center on the table before the first interview, the light off-center in the ceiling, the scaffold off-center in the plaza? All I know is that I don't understand Ahrt, I need the Ahrtist to explain, and sometimes the Ahrtist has no explanation. Someone give me a math problem, this dunce cap is squeezing the left side of my head and I'd like to take it off. *Copied from karen's shelf name.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    I find it difficult to believe Nabokov when in the preface to Invitation to a Beheading he insists that he had no knowledge of Kafka when he wrote this book. This novel echoes The Trial in its plot and themes, not to mention the similarity in the protagonists names. Even the opening sentence appears to be a kind of homage; compare: "Someone must have been spreading slander about Josef K., for one morning he was arrested, though he had done nothing wrong." - Kafka, The Trial. "In accordance with th I find it difficult to believe Nabokov when in the preface to Invitation to a Beheading he insists that he had no knowledge of Kafka when he wrote this book. This novel echoes The Trial in its plot and themes, not to mention the similarity in the protagonists names. Even the opening sentence appears to be a kind of homage; compare: "Someone must have been spreading slander about Josef K., for one morning he was arrested, though he had done nothing wrong." - Kafka, The Trial. "In accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus C. in a whisper." - Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading Come on, Vladimir, who are you trying to fool? But though these similarities do invite comparison, I can understand his frustration at the facile, reductionist use of the “Kafkaesque” label, as simply equating the two novels would be a mistake: Invitation to a Beheading is a very different novel to The Trial. It is a better novel, in my opinion (though I am a noted detractor of Kafka’s). To begin with, Nabokov’s prose is much more enjoyable to read, and the surreal and absurd elements are more imaginative, and more entertaining. Above all, Invitation to a Beheading continues to develop its ideas as it progresses, rather than simply locking itself and the reader in a cycle of repeated frustration for one hundred and fifty pages. Nabokov’s novel also deals heavily with frustration, but his meaning and implication is more broad than Kafka’s. Invitation to a Beheading is not about the restrictions imposed by the state, but those which we internalise and accept within our own lives. We are all in fact sentenced to live this absurd life, awaiting our own execution, and it is up to us to recognise our jailers. I’m gradually coming back around to Nabokov, after the lingering disappointment of Bend Sinister, which I read almost two years ago. But in terms of quality, Invitation to a Beheading is certainly closer to Pnin and Pale Fire, than it is to that book. One of his best, I think.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “...All my best words are deserters and do not answer the trumpet call, and the remainder are cripples.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading Nabokov's violin playing in the void of a totalitarian nightmare. Invitation to a Beheading belongs among those 20th Century novels by Orwell, Huxley, Kafka and Koestler that explore the individual revolting against an absurd totalitarianism. Cincinnatus C is an opaque prisoner being punished by a translucent society for his gnostical turpitude. Wi “...All my best words are deserters and do not answer the trumpet call, and the remainder are cripples.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading Nabokov's violin playing in the void of a totalitarian nightmare. Invitation to a Beheading belongs among those 20th Century novels by Orwell, Huxley, Kafka and Koestler that explore the individual revolting against an absurd totalitarianism. Cincinnatus C is an opaque prisoner being punished by a translucent society for his gnostical turpitude. With a Gogol-like playfulness and a Kafkaesque absurdity and a linqusitic inventiveness that belongs solely to Nabokov, 'Invitation to a Beheading' explores the many ways the state (and society) acts to destroy or force conformity on those whose vision is different. Beware those who transgress social norms, your days are both numbered ... and infinite.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David Lentz

    It would seem that Nabokov entertains the idea that we live under a death sentence, which may be carried out at anytime with or without just cause by forces greater than we are as individuals with our limited scope of power and influence. The book is absurd, of course, in the true sense of the word insofar as it portrays life as essentially beyond our understanding except within the limited sensory confines of everyday life. It is a PoMo classic in the treatment of its themes and Nabokov transpo It would seem that Nabokov entertains the idea that we live under a death sentence, which may be carried out at anytime with or without just cause by forces greater than we are as individuals with our limited scope of power and influence. The book is absurd, of course, in the true sense of the word insofar as it portrays life as essentially beyond our understanding except within the limited sensory confines of everyday life. It is a PoMo classic in the treatment of its themes and Nabokov transports his readers into a dreamlike existence. Cincinnatus would be quite at home with Joseph K. from Kafka and the cast from Beckett. That is, he is a victim of his own inability to understand his life and is trapped in a world far too vast to comprehend with pure reason alone. Yet within the dream state a certain logic prevails in the discourse which lends an air of credibility to the tale: we believe that in some totalitarian state the fate of Cincinnatus is all too real and was in fact inspired by the megalomania of tyrants past in Nabokov's native Russia and elsewhere. He brings to light the shadows of all the Angst of a convict on death row with his unbelief about his circumstances, his regrets for past lapses and failures, false hope of rescue, fear of the final indignity and pain. Yet Cincinnatus ascends the scaffold determined to face his end "By myself" and his redemption seems to be the victory of his will in the final pages of the novel. The engaging style of Nabokov is well worth noting: he is vivid, intelligent, original and credible as a narrator. Like Dostoyevsky in "The Idiot" he stays out of the way of his protagonist insofar as we experience his fate through his eyes. But his fellow characters shape the story line substantially with their own dialogue and actions driven by credible, all-too-human motives. At times, Cincinnatus is simply a silent witness, a felon consumed by dread after his conviction of "agnostic turpitude" of which he barely denies and as an Everyman must certainly be guilty even insofar as it will be the end of him. Nabokov peppers his narrative with nuance and his vision focuses upon a sensual reality which is both compelling and engaging: he really knows how to draw you into this dreamlike tale about the absurdity of life. By now, many of his themes from this novel may seem almost quaint within the PoMo catalogue but he was a force in defining a movement by virtue of the simplicity and power of his narrative gifts. My respect for Nabokov has gone up a notch or two after reading this brief book. Although some may not find satisfaction in the close of this tale, it is well worth reading.

  17. 5 out of 5

    baharthebookreviewer

    As I finished the last page of this book, having misty eyes I remembered the foreword of the book.Dear Nabokov I was among the readers who ruffled their hair, who have had been sent into abstract prisons for gnostical turpitude...I too have dreamed of another world, which was full of colors, a world that was more true, more alive...I too have wanted to take off my head like a toupee and then my collarbones like shoulder straps and then my rib cage as a hauberk and then my hips, my legs and my ar As I finished the last page of this book, having misty eyes I remembered the foreword of the book.Dear Nabokov I was among the readers who ruffled their hair, who have had been sent into abstract prisons for gnostical turpitude...I too have dreamed of another world, which was full of colors, a world that was more true, more alive...I too have wanted to take off my head like a toupee and then my collarbones like shoulder straps and then my rib cage as a hauberk and then my hips, my legs and my arms and throw them all In a corner and to see what is left of me to gradually dissolve.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Capsguy

    This was great, I love Nabokov when he`s not being so pompous in his prose. But if I hear one more person label this as `Kafkaesque` I`ll smack them good! Believe it or not, but generally I am not a fan of the absurd, but I loved the absurdity and helplessness in this novel. Imagine being condemned to death for an undefinable crime and not being told when it is that you will be executed(in Japan apparently pretty much no one knows when someone on death row dies until the actual day, yikes!) and ha This was great, I love Nabokov when he`s not being so pompous in his prose. But if I hear one more person label this as `Kafkaesque` I`ll smack them good! Believe it or not, but generally I am not a fan of the absurd, but I loved the absurdity and helplessness in this novel. Imagine being condemned to death for an undefinable crime and not being told when it is that you will be executed(in Japan apparently pretty much no one knows when someone on death row dies until the actual day, yikes!) and having to put up with quite some quirky characters in one of the most bizarre prisons I`ve ever experienced in reading, and I`ve read The Enormous Room by E.E Cummings! A few things were easy enough to predict, I won`t say so as to remove the possibility of potential spoilers, but it didn`t really detract from the reading experience. I must say that the ending was unexpected from an author like Nabokov, fans may be a little bit disappointed in that respect. Anyways, if you`re looking for something a little bizarre but still has literary merit, then this is certainly worth looking into. Others said it drags on here and there, but that`s just how Nabokov is, he grows on you like that.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Allie

    I saw this book as a story about relationships. Cincinnatus is a prisoner for an absurd crime of personality, and his executioner cares for him and dotes on him, completely ignorant of any reason why the spitful Cincinnatus should dislike him. It teaches us about ourselves, and about the blurring of lines in our love relationships. Sometimes, those who love us most, are the ones that imprison us or act as our executioners. Yet they love us, nonetheless. We think that those who love us will never I saw this book as a story about relationships. Cincinnatus is a prisoner for an absurd crime of personality, and his executioner cares for him and dotes on him, completely ignorant of any reason why the spitful Cincinnatus should dislike him. It teaches us about ourselves, and about the blurring of lines in our love relationships. Sometimes, those who love us most, are the ones that imprison us or act as our executioners. Yet they love us, nonetheless. We think that those who love us will never harm us and those who hate us always will, when actually the reality we experience is that the characters and the behaviors swap fairly often. We cannot hate those who love us simply because they have imprisoned us in some way, nor should we reject the kindness of someone who hates us, just on principle alone. In one famous scene, Cincinnatus is dancing with his jailer to some sort of waltz, and though he despises the idea of dancing with his executioner, he still feels sad when the dance has ended and he is returned to his cell. We are humans in the end, and the comforts and loves we feel are real even when they come from unlikely or unsavory places. We must come to terms with this and learn to enjoy them for what they are. I felt it was a great book, even though I'm not particularly into surrealism.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

    This was the first Nabokov novel I read, and I highly recommend it as an introduction. Although not as iconic as Lolita or as out-and-out brilliant as Pale Fire, this book both draws you in and keeps you at a distance, allowing you into its world but not inside the main character's head-- at least, not as much as his later works. Significantly, this is one of Nabokov's few novels (are there any other than this one?) that is not narrated in the first person. If prolonged, thoughtful imagery and t This was the first Nabokov novel I read, and I highly recommend it as an introduction. Although not as iconic as Lolita or as out-and-out brilliant as Pale Fire, this book both draws you in and keeps you at a distance, allowing you into its world but not inside the main character's head-- at least, not as much as his later works. Significantly, this is one of Nabokov's few novels (are there any other than this one?) that is not narrated in the first person. If prolonged, thoughtful imagery and the occasional two-dollar word will hold your interest, then this book will give you one of the most fascinating endings in 20th-century literature.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    I see that the review on the GR home page for Invitation to a Beheading compares it to Kafka. It's clear that Nabokov heard this rather more frequently than he wanted to, and was very tired of it. In the foreword to my edition, he has the following comment: "Emigré reviewers, who were puzzled but liked it, thought they distinguished in it a "Kafkaesque" strain, not knowing that I had no German, was completely ignorant of modern German literature, and had not yet read any French or English transla I see that the review on the GR home page for Invitation to a Beheading compares it to Kafka. It's clear that Nabokov heard this rather more frequently than he wanted to, and was very tired of it. In the foreword to my edition, he has the following comment: "Emigré reviewers, who were puzzled but liked it, thought they distinguished in it a "Kafkaesque" strain, not knowing that I had no German, was completely ignorant of modern German literature, and had not yet read any French or English translations of Kafka's works. No doubt, there do exist certain stylistic links between this book and, say, my earlier stories (or my later Bend Sinister); but there are none between it and Le chateau or The Trial." It's true that the word "Kafkaesque" is horribly overused. I love the postcoital scene in Annie Hall with Woody Allen and Shelley Duvall: REPORTER (Looking down at him) I hope you don't mind that I took so long to finish. ALVY (Sighing) Oh, no, no, don't be ... tsch ... don't be silly. You know, (Yawning) I'm startin' it-I'm startin' to get some feeling back in my jaw now. REPORTER Oh, sex with you is really a Kafkaesque experience. ALVY Oh, tsch, thank you. H'm. REPORTER I mean that as a compliment.

  22. 4 out of 5

    MVV

    I feel like I'm cheating Nabokov when I say I've read this book because with a book like the one here, it is an unending experience. One doesn't simply read and move past it but instead is invited by the text to re-read again and again, each time displaying a different layer, which like an onion's, is peeled off by each reading to reveal newer ones still. Nabokov here plays jump rope with modernist and post-modernist tendencies. at one moment he is sad, at the other mad. While in places he wants I feel like I'm cheating Nabokov when I say I've read this book because with a book like the one here, it is an unending experience. One doesn't simply read and move past it but instead is invited by the text to re-read again and again, each time displaying a different layer, which like an onion's, is peeled off by each reading to reveal newer ones still. Nabokov here plays jump rope with modernist and post-modernist tendencies. at one moment he is sad, at the other mad. While in places he wants to revisit a glorious past, at others he celebrates a complete sense of spatio-temporal linearities. Combined with this masterful command of stylistics is the author's dazzling prose which is, fittingly, as lucid at times as it is near undecipherable at others. Such novels are not mere publications; they are achievements. I'm more glad than can be that this was my first Nabokov and not Lolita, which is the usual entry point into his oeuvre for most others.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ioana

    100 stars! This is by far one of the most absurd, imaginative, and metaphorically insightful works of art I have ever encountered - it is what I would imagine a Dali painting to be if it were a novel. It is also brilliantly written. Invitation to a Beheading is quite phenomenological in tone (in the tradition of Husserl, but more resembling Gaston Bachelard's phenomenology), serving to snap us out of our familiarity and out of our forgetting of the nature of our reality by continually inserting t 100 stars! This is by far one of the most absurd, imaginative, and metaphorically insightful works of art I have ever encountered - it is what I would imagine a Dali painting to be if it were a novel. It is also brilliantly written. Invitation to a Beheading is quite phenomenological in tone (in the tradition of Husserl, but more resembling Gaston Bachelard's phenomenology), serving to snap us out of our familiarity and out of our forgetting of the nature of our reality by continually inserting the ridiculous into the narrative: a family who brings their furniture with them to jail for a brief visit of an inmate; a spider who inhabits a cell with the protagonist and who is fed and coddled; an execution ceremony which resembles a circus/variety-show act; chairs and furniture that move during the night, "and never spend the night in the same spot twice"; and seemingly nonsensical meanderings such as the observation that "an insane man mistakes his visiting kin for galaxies, logarithms, low-haunched hyenas". I wouldn't say I *enjoyed* this work - though the book was relatively short, it took me weeks to trudge through it; still, it quickly became one of my "favorites", and a work I would recommend to any of my literary friends above others in a heartbeat. There is no question that, although, as some have complained, this work lacks a "plot" or "character development", it is nevertheless a surreal masterpiece that reveals the absurdity in our own (moral, social) conventions. HIGHLY recommended, though you probably will not enjoy it if you are looking for a book with a "plot" and if you are easily frustrated by one in which not much seems to "happen". Invitation to a Beheading is more like philosophy than it is a novel.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marianna Neal

    A complex, allegorical, existentialist work of fiction. One reading is definitely not enough to fully grasp everything Nabokov was trying to convey here. I find it interesting that Nabokov himself said this is not a political piece, and that this takes place around the year 3000 in Russia, and yet thematically so much of the novel has to do with failure to conform, being different, being hard to predict and understand, being hard to see through—this is the crime of Cincinnatus C. for which he is A complex, allegorical, existentialist work of fiction. One reading is definitely not enough to fully grasp everything Nabokov was trying to convey here. I find it interesting that Nabokov himself said this is not a political piece, and that this takes place around the year 3000 in Russia, and yet thematically so much of the novel has to do with failure to conform, being different, being hard to predict and understand, being hard to see through—this is the crime of Cincinnatus C. for which he is to be executed. The author takes a personal approach, examining the soul and the individual rather than focusing on any kind of totalitarian rule or harshness of law. In fact, everyone and everything around the main character has a touch of absurdism to it, with somewhat of a comedic touch. However, I don't believe the popular comparisons to Kafka are fair here—they only work on a very surface level, but once you dig deeper Invitation to a Beheading goes for a different focus and meaning. I'm going to revisit Kafka's The Trial though, just to make sure I'm not losing my mind here.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    Sizzling prose, often. I think chapter 8 is going to become one of my personal classics: soliloquy of a condemned prisoner. This, with his other passages in solitary and the ending, make a worthy entry in anti-death penalty fiction, alongside such Russians as Leonid Andreyev (Seven Who Were Hanged) and Dostoyevsky (The Idiot). Nabokov’s dad and granddad both worked against the death penalty in government in Russia. The bizarre farce… I only reconciled to after being guided to look at the book as a Sizzling prose, often. I think chapter 8 is going to become one of my personal classics: soliloquy of a condemned prisoner. This, with his other passages in solitary and the ending, make a worthy entry in anti-death penalty fiction, alongside such Russians as Leonid Andreyev (Seven Who Were Hanged) and Dostoyevsky (The Idiot). Nabokov’s dad and granddad both worked against the death penalty in government in Russia. The bizarre farce… I only reconciled to after being guided to look at the book as a quite specific satire on Soviet official philosophy of life, and its intellectual background in 19thC radical circles – the materialist, scientific-determinist school of Chernyshevsky, and Lenin after him, and that lot. Seen in this focus, I get it. Example: I put the novel on pause and under suspicion when I met the wife (I guess I had trust issues left over from Lolita); until I figured out she’s a satire of open marriages as advocated in Chernyshevsky’s novel, which Dostoyevsky satirised too in Demons. Indeed Dostoyevsky (my favourite author if you didn’t know) spent his latter life in struggle against this materialist-determinist tide in radical thought, so I’m up for novel by Nabokov against it. People have no personhood, except for Cincinnatus, who has 'gnostical turpitude' (his capital crime) because he has a subjectivity which science and other people's eyes cannot plumb. He has glimmerings of a day when the shoddy farce/philosophy of life around him blows away and people are allowed to be real again. In fact he looks forward to the 21st century for a life 'ennobled, spiritualised'... I don't know whether we can help him. I tend to be impatient of writers-writing-about-writing or similar circuitous topics; given Nabokov's disengaged stance, this is often taken for one. I'll go with the above interpretation, which makes sense to me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Merphy Napier

    Because I'm behind on reviews, I'm just going to link this months classics wrap up https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJKAH... Because I'm behind on reviews, I'm just going to link this months classics wrap up https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJKAH...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    In this bizarre and irrational world, Cincinnatus has been convicted and condemned to death by beheading for gnostical turpitude, an imaginary crime with no definition. Cincinnatus spends his remaining days in prison where he is visited by the chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a prisoner, and his in-laws. When Cincinnatus is finally brought out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit. There is n In this bizarre and irrational world, Cincinnatus has been convicted and condemned to death by beheading for gnostical turpitude, an imaginary crime with no definition. Cincinnatus spends his remaining days in prison where he is visited by the chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a prisoner, and his in-laws. When Cincinnatus is finally brought out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit. There is no denying that Invitation to a Beheading is a weird novel; often compared with Franz Kafka’s The Castle, it is important to know that Vladimir Nabokov had not read any German novels, let alone Kafka when writing this. The reason this is important is to avoid trying to compare the two novels; sure they have similarities but they are still also vastly different. Originally published as a serial, with the title Sovremennye Zapiski (Contemporary Notes), Nabokov has stated while Lolita holds his greatest affection, this novel holds his greatest esteem. While people call this Kafkaesque, the impossible and dreamlike world reminds me more of Haruki Murakami’s style. From the very start the reader understands there is something not right about this world, this reminded me of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I got the feeling that this wasn’t reality but a world constructed in Cincinnatus’ mind based on his fears, doubts, and insecurities. Cincinnatus’ enemy is the society he’s created and the people of that society act according to ridiculous rules that have been set. We never know what gnostical turpitude is and this will probably remind people of Kafka’s The Trial. Cincinnatus is rebelling against the construction of this reality and the rules the people of this society observe and perhaps this is what makes him a criminal. Maybe gnostical turpitude is the crime of being different from all the other people in this reality. Maybe Cincinnatus is being oppress for his ideas and his nature. Maybe he is so different from everyone around him; he has an internal depth that the others lack. A lot like Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov has a way about his writing that just leaves you with so many questions that you need to think through, this whole reality and society leaves me perplexed. Though this is the point; life isn’t simple and being an outsider sometimes feels like you are Cincinnatus in a bizarre reality. While this book primarily looks at society and oppression it also looks at human connection. Cincinnatus desires to connect with his wife Marthe, despite her unfaithfulness and lack of concern for him. The one thing he craves the most is to make a connection and she felt like the logical choice; also the fact that he loved her helped. He begs her to come alone and reveal her true self to him but there is always something that interferes with the communicating. While this was a very odd book, Vladimir Nabokov is just a brilliant writer and that really makes up for the weirdness. Also the weird and bizarre act as motifs within the narrative and without the symbolism and meaning it would just be trippy book. Nabokov does a good job of weaving his messages and ideas while entertaining the reader in unexpected ways. Most people only ever read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and I think that means they miss out on his brilliance, I hope to read more; currently on my To Be Read list is Mary, Pnin and Pale Fire. Are there any others I should add? This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2013/...

  28. 4 out of 5

    David

    I would compare reading this book to analyzing a surrealist painting; in that there can be many possible explanations for what is going on in the painting (or novel), the motives behind the painting (or novel), and what there is to be learned, if indeed there is anything to be learned. Cincinnatus, the protagonist, is convicted of a nebulous crime, for which the penalty is death, but at an unknown date. Is Cincinnatus dreaming? Has he hallucinated the entire affair? There is certainly an element I would compare reading this book to analyzing a surrealist painting; in that there can be many possible explanations for what is going on in the painting (or novel), the motives behind the painting (or novel), and what there is to be learned, if indeed there is anything to be learned. Cincinnatus, the protagonist, is convicted of a nebulous crime, for which the penalty is death, but at an unknown date. Is Cincinnatus dreaming? Has he hallucinated the entire affair? There is certainly an element of the absurd in the novel, and I must in some ways compare it to The Trial. But whereas the trial, and Kafka, focus on the absurdity of attempting to change your fate while stoically moving forward, Nabokov's novel reads more like a fever-dream. Time seems to pass in the novel, but not in conventional methods. Certainly, days pass, but the real locomotive of time, the date of his beheading, is alluded to by subtler means, the insects in his room being devoured by the spider, culminating in the beautiful moth, the length of Cincinnatus' pencil, and the amount of paper he has left to write upon. Time also passes nearer to his beheading by the increasing psychological tortures he endures; they become more acute as his end nears. It reminded me of the torture of Tantalus, where both food and drink seem to be within reach, but elude him when he reached for them. This happened to Cincinnatus when each time the hope of escape, hope, or epiphany dangled before him before being dashed into despair. What was Cincinnatus' crime? In my estimation, if the whole scenario were not a hallucination or dream, it would be being unable or unwilling to fit into society. The ending made me question whether the prison, the crime, the sentence, and even the characters were real. The fortress begins to collapse and turn into a labyrinth, Cincinnatus realizes the absurdity of his situation, refuses to accept it, and walk away as the world he was trapped in shrinks, fades away, and vanishes, as he travels towards voices he imagines to be like-minded with himself. Can an ending be more surreal than that? I don't know if I have read one at this point in my life. I'm sure there was much more nuance and imagery in this book I failed to pick up on or don't feel I have the time or energy to address, such as the absurdity of the executioner getting to know, and purportedly love, the one he is going to execute. Perhaps Nabokov was alluding to the fact that being the object of someone's affection can itself be a prison? I don't feel I have the authority to say. In any case, the book is very thought provoking. 4/5

  29. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    It’s The House of the Dead meets Monty Python’s blacker moments. Nabokov wrote this in a fortnight, and although wired to his usual stylistic and linguistic arrogance, the story meanders in the way an undisciplined half-dream half-real semi-surrealist novel might. It's not quite Dostoevsky, not quite Gogol either. I also began to mix up Cincinnatus with Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, which wasn’t wholly random, as the novels aren’t too far off in terms of their dark humour. This It’s The House of the Dead meets Monty Python’s blacker moments. Nabokov wrote this in a fortnight, and although wired to his usual stylistic and linguistic arrogance, the story meanders in the way an undisciplined half-dream half-real semi-surrealist novel might. It's not quite Dostoevsky, not quite Gogol either. I also began to mix up Cincinnatus with Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, which wasn’t wholly random, as the novels aren’t too far off in terms of their dark humour. This novel withers under the punitive glee Nabokov takes in human suffering and becomes a swamp of language, fantasy and metaphor in a way that utterly supplants the story. Nice title, though.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    One of the novels that Nabokov wrote while living in Berlin. Unlike Laughter in the Dark it has a fantastical setting. The story is very simple - a man sits in his cell waiting to be executed, the action takes place over a period of days, or possibly weeks at the most. I remember the impression it made on me as I finished the book, feeling sick with my legs trembling. As with Laughter in the Dark it strikes me as a fear based novel, Nabokov would probably dislike my slipping my hands like a phren One of the novels that Nabokov wrote while living in Berlin. Unlike Laughter in the Dark it has a fantastical setting. The story is very simple - a man sits in his cell waiting to be executed, the action takes place over a period of days, or possibly weeks at the most. I remember the impression it made on me as I finished the book, feeling sick with my legs trembling. As with Laughter in the Dark it strikes me as a fear based novel, Nabokov would probably dislike my slipping my hands like a phrenologist over the bumps in his skull, but my impression would be that for both novels the emotion came first, here the horror of awaiting execution, the story is stripped away so there is only that fact and the reader's emotional response to it. I thought I might return to the book, I had borrowed it from the town library, along with many Graham Green novels, but in the intervening years some cultural shift has taken place and both authors have disappeared not only from the town library, but according to the catalogue from virtually all the libraries in the county. Time moves on, tastes change.

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