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Invitation to a Beheading (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 26 Apr 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (26 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141185600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141185606
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically." -- John Updike

" Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically." -- John Updike --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

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

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Set in the prison-fortress of an unnamed state, INVITATION TO A BEHEADING is a 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 transported to a yellow-walled cell in a vast prison (in which he is the sole captive). For 20 days he is tormented in peculiar ways by his perversely mundane keepers. As time passes, Cincinnatus increasingly believes his jailers are not who they appear to be.

This short novel will probably flummox those who want a straightforward narrative, yet I think its dislocated symbolism and pathos will appeal most to the reader who (for whatever reason) feels marginalized by the status quo of what is normal and what is culturally expected. Cincinnatus C. is agitated and numbed by a yearning for escape and honesty, while the interferers around him are full of themselves with empty boasts, smug ambition and false concern.

Written in a fluid prose style and marked by smoke-&-mirrors imagery, INVITATION TO A BEHEADING is an absurdist classic: a strange snapshot of an outsider's dissolving life.
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By A Customer on 29 Oct. 2003
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
While in the middle of a long, difficult non-fiction study by the sociologist of religion Robert Bellah, I took time away to read a novel. The book I read, Nabokov's "Invitation to a Beheading" proved shorter but as thoughtful and if anything more obscure than Bellah's outstanding work. Nabokov (1899 -- 1979) wrote "Invitation to a Beheading" in Russian early in his career in 1935, several years before moving to the United States.

Nabokov's novel tells the story of a young man of 30, Cincinnatus C. Allusions may be important. Cincinnatus was a Roman statesman who defeated an invasion and then returned to his farm, refusing an offer of kingship. George Washington sometimes is called the American Cincinnatus. There are other important allusions in Nabokov's novel, including one to Socrates. Cincinnatus C. is arrested and sentenced to death by beheading for the strange, unexplained crime of "gnostic turpitude." Most of the novel is set in prison over a period of weeks while Cincinnatus awaits execution.

The reader gradually learns about Cincinnatus through his own words and those of the narrator which tend to merge together. The reader also learns of Cincinnatus' life in the jail surrounded by shadowy figures including the guard, the prison director, the director's daughter, a sole fellow-prisoner, a librarian, and other characters. Cincinnatus had led a lonely, frustrated life as a would-be writer. He was raised as an orphan, cuckolded repeatedly by his wife, and always felt himself a loner, misunderstood and neglected.

While in prison, Cincinnatus is obsessed with finding out the day of his execution. He wants to put his thoughts to paper, but he says he is unwilling to make the effort if his work is interrupted by his beheading.
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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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