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Invitation to a Beheading (Twentieth Century Classics) [Paperback]

Vladimir Nabokov , Dmitri Nabokov
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Jan 1990 0140100407 978-0140100402 New edition
This novel takes the reader into the prison world of a man condemned to death.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (25 Jan 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140100407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140100402
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 13 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,416,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokov household was trilingual, and 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. 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.

Product Description

About the Author

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, as well as a translator and lepidopterist. His works include, from the Russian novels, The Luzhin Defense and The Gift; from the English novels, Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire and Ada; the autobiographical Speak, Memory; translations of Alice in Wonderland into Russian and Eugene Onegin into English; and lectures on literature. All of the fiction and Speak, Memory are published in Penguin. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
IN accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus C. in a whisper. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An all time classic 29 Oct 2003
By A Customer
This book is stunning. It was the last book that Nabokov wrote in Russian and it explores a lot of the themes that he goes back to in later novels like Bend Sinister and Pale Fire. If I had to, I would pick those two novels above this one, but this one is certainly worth reading. I consider it one of the finest works of literature. It is funny, tragic, moving, puzzling, but ultimately very rewarding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kafkaesque? 3 May 2009
By Room For A View VINE VOICE
I think it is reasonable to accept that this novel will have to endure repeated allusions to Kafka's early 20th century literature, particulaly the plight of Joseph K. But if we take Nabokov at his word (see the forward), then this work was written (in two weeks) in ignorance of any knowledge of Kafka and, as such, any comparisons are purely coincidental. That being said it is spooky that this novel (excluding the word play) has a very Kafkaesque feel. For instance the central character is condemened to death for offences that are never revealed, the date of the beheading is not known, the prison officals are bizarre as are the official rituals, family members pop up now and then, cause a stir and disappear for a chapter ot two, the list goes on. Like Ada and Adour I found this novel immersed me in a surreal dreamscape made up of ambiguous characters and supernatural events, with no real sense of chronology or, dare I say it, meaning. For me, however, the meditative power of the narrative (Nabokov praised his son's translation from the original Russian) and the interest I had for the fate of the hero compelled me to ride the moments I found hard work. Perhaps this work is principally a dream punctuated by moments of reflection from the character's "reality", such as, the arrogantly, unfaithful wife?
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Nabokov wrote this book in two weeks. As a result the book is fast paced, as is the reading. I couldnt stop reading it until I was finished.
The author denies having read Kafka before writing this book. The fact is that the "strangeness" of the story is akin to Kafkas works. A man that finds himself in a starnge situation (in this case, convicted to death) without any aparent reason, surrounded by stranger characters. As for the end of the book, without giving it away, all I can say is that it is Amazingly puzling... Great book from a great author!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No easy way out 4 Feb 2009
To understand Nabokov's Invitation we must at first do away with two comparisons. By the same author; Lolita is a blue streak tour-de-force of baby boomer America, narrated by a poetic and childish synaesthesiac that is an incredible book in its own right but occupies a completely different world to Invitation. Second are the comparisons to Kafka and The Trial, Nabokov claiming to not have read at the time of writing Invitaion, though assuming a kindred spirit with the author in his introduction. The suffocating atmosphere is similar, yet it is probably a bad idea to try and liken the setting of Invitation to any totalitarian regime existing in the real world or the imagination. Orwell is also lampooned by Nabokov in his introduction; Nabokov famous for admonishing attempts of critics to allegorise fiction, even more so those attempts of authors. That said, Invitation is famous for elicting thousands of interpretations, and no one can claim the authoritative explanation, yet taking away the claims above does move one closer to unlocking the puzzles the book creates.

The entire scope of Invitation lies within the small prison world of Cincinatus and the small cast of characters around him. This claustrophobic world relentlessly forces us to live in Cincinatus' cell, with next to no sense of release. The small breaks from Cincinatus' prison world consist of imaginary wanderings round the small town were C lives that inevitably lead back to his cell, as well as the absurd and perhaps even manipulated break-outs. These fragments of memory are the only parts of the story that exist outside of the fortress.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He is not one of us 22 Aug 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Set in the prison-fortress of an unnamed state, INVITATION TO A BEHEADING is a darkly surreal tale chronicling the last days of Cincinnatus C., a man condemned and sentenced to death for... well, what exactly? Apart from the phrase "Gnostical Turpitude" and subtle accusations of being "opaque", his crime is never properly revealed, although throughout the story we learn (courtesy of Cincinnatus's fragmented scribblings) that he is in some way different or special. At one point he recalls levitating out of a window. In a different memory he overhears group of people whispering "He is one of them, he is a..." - The chatter isn't finished and we never learn what Cincinnatus C. is or what he has done.

Whatever the true nature of his crime is, at the story's start Cincinnatus is found guilty and led to a yellow-walled cell where for twenty days he is tormented in peculiar ways by his keepers - a perversely mundane bunch to be sure! As time passes, Cincinnatus increasingly believes his jailers are not who they appear to be.

For sure this short novel will flummox, yet I think its dislocated symbolism will appeal most to those who (for whatever reason) feel marginalized by the status quo of what is normal and what is culturally expected. Cincinnatus is agitated and numbed by a quiet desperation and a yearning to escape, while the interferers around him are full of themselves with empty boasts and smug ambition.

Written in a fluid prose style and marked by smoke-&-mirrors imagery, INVITATION TO A BEHEADING is an absurd, strange, and ultimately sublime snapshot of a dissolving life. Nabokov in surrealist mode. Some might say Kafkaesque.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Kafkaesque
This was a good book but the low rating is because I am comparing it to his others. Good but nowhere near his best
Published 2 months ago by Rory McNeill
3.0 out of 5 stars When you don't play the Game, and become one of life's outliers...
Nabokov surreal romp is the story of Cincinnatus C., somewhere out there in the faceless depths of Middle Europe, who has just been sentenced to a beheading for the crime of... Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2011 by John P. Jones III
I don't understand this book.Whenever I don't see the point , I always consider that maybe I'm a stupid fellow. Well I found this book incomprehensibly dense and opaque. Read more
Published on 12 Jan 2011 by Mr. Michael Richard Harris
3.0 out of 5 stars A clever enough little tale
A clever enough little tale. Nabokov's renowned way with words is not heavily in evidence here as he opts for a disorientating and broken style, reflecting (presumably) the... Read more
Published on 12 Aug 2008 by Pablo K
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Nabokov himself considered this one of his more important works. It is rich in symbolism and imagery, it is penetrating about the interaction between the individual and society and... Read more
Published on 30 Dec 2006 by Liesel Knightley
2.0 out of 5 stars Hasty and shallow
With the possible exception of juvenilia such as _Glory_, this is the least important and least compelling of Nabokov's works. Read more
Published on 3 Mar 2003 by Self
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Nabokovs writing is exquisite. His words roll off the page like skies on a never-ending slope, encouraging and inticing readers not to put a book down. Read more
Published on 4 Aug 2002 by Deacon36
5.0 out of 5 stars A strange, haunting and fulfilled prophecy
I first read this book in the 1960's and was puzzled but liked it. In 1989 I realised that it was a strange prophecy of the Fall of Communism. Read more
Published on 1 Sep 1999
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