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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 7 December 2016
Professor Pnin, Russian émigré, battles with life and language in 1950s America. Simultaneously hilarious, and very, very sad, with wonderful writing that mixes abstruse and asinine to stunning effect. Can’t get out of my head one of the hero’s unkind campus colleagues proposing, ‘Ping pong, Pnin?’
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on 22 December 2016
Dull, academically self-indulgent novel which conveyed nothing in terms of the human condition. A barely discernible plot, with characters with whom one could neither identify nor sympathise. At times eloquent narrative; other times unintelligible or tiresome.
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on 12 May 2008
Nabokov's writing can make me grin in the same way as when I watch Lionel Messi or Johan Cruijf play football - the exhilaration of seeing a master in action, in complete control of his medium.

Pnin is endearing and lovable, while at the same time being consistently cringeworthy or absurd. He exploits are painted vividly on a meticulously realised backdrop of Nabokovian Americana. Familiar settings like universities and diners are embued with fresh life - descriptions I may have been tempted to skim in another book bear repeated re-readings.

Beauty is to be expected from Nabokov, but the strength of the humour may surprise you. The physical imagery of Pnin, with his strange, top heavy body and bald head combines with verbal humour ( "I never go in a hat even in winter") very effectively.

An undercurrent to the humour is that Pnin is frequently at the wrong end of it - the reader snickers at some gaffe poor Pnin has made, but in the next passage frowns at other characters laughing at him too.

It's short, but its images and scenes will leave a stronger imprint on your memory than most longer novels. I can definitely see myself rereading this in years to come.

Wonderful.
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Nabokov is one of those authors you either connect with or don't, which is perhaps more a matter of taste than we would like to admit. His characters are bizarre, usually neurotic if not truly insane, yet almost always funny.

Pnin is one of his finer creations: an inhibited academic, whose past is laced with pain and betrayals, he lives a little life from all appearences. Yet within him is a being of extraordinary sympathy and quirky intelligence, which floursihes under Nabokov's comic and tragic gaze. Only those who come to love him experience the treasure that lies within him, and as he is revealed to the reader, who can fall in love with him or not. Though very little occurs in this book in terms of plot, Pnin's existence takes on a kind of significance. THe reader comes to acccept his limitations while feeling such an acute ache of sympathy for him.

Warmly recommended, but it isn't for everybody.
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on 12 May 2007
With Pnin we are introduced to Russian émigré, Timofey Pnin. Tenuously untenured at a New England college, he muddles through 1950s America with a unique variety of English of his own. Mocked and loved on campus in equal measure, he has an acute sense of the ridiculous of the world and of himself. For Pnin sorrow is "the only thing in the world people really possess" and his planned courses will show that "the history of man is the history of pain". Alongside these bleak courseplans, we are treated two parties, a former wife convinced of her own glamour, the visit of her insular, wunderkind son, and Pnin's wonderful driving. As with much of Nabokov, there are dopelgangers aplenty causing Pnin (and us) to ask which is the genuine article. Anyone who knows himself to be fallible and slightly absurd will love Pnin, and will be grateful to Nabokov for making this invention a reality.
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on 18 July 2013
Pnin as a novel is haunted by what it could be. There parts of this book which are simply brilliant (end of Ch. 5 in particular), but they are islands amongst the merely mediocre. That is not to say the book is bad, anything but in fact, I just seem to be holding it to higher standard on account of it being a Nabokov.

Pnin as a character is one of the most likeable men in fiction, I dare you not to get completely taken in by his clumsiness, awkwardness and eccentricities. Evidently intelligent but marred by his complete lack of social skill, Nabokov creates all manner of hilarious situations for Pnin to navigate, simple non-issues are converted by Pnin into chaos and of course the most complex of problems are handled efficiently with little alarm. Pnin's turbulent backstory is revealed slowly and in some cases, darkly, but always ends up endearing Pnin further to the reader.

The prose is nowhere near as fantastical as Nabokov's other work but infrequently there is the little explosion of alliteration and assonance. Pnin's particular dialect is handled extremely well and never short on comedy. The odd flirtation with French is not taken to the extremes as with H.H's fancy prose but seems only for the embellishment of more comedy.

In a similar vein there is little narrative experimentation, you won't have to sit there with a notebook trying to unravel meta-narratives but you will have to contend with a particularly unreliable narrator. The narrator's voice imposes sporadically to repeatedly express disappointment, disdain and occasionally, disgust, with Pnin. All just to make you doubt the level of bias in Pnin's presentation every time the narrator intervenes. Then again it wouldn't be Nabokov without a little head-scratcher.

A solid, funny (in some cases belly-achingly so) and enjoyable novel the only flaw for me is in the last chapter - I can see why its necessary but it just seemed to go too far past the end. Its worth reading just to meet and get to know Pnin.
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VINE VOICEon 12 July 2006
Pnin is a wonderful exploration of 1950s America set against a backdrop of `corporate' academia in leafy, prosperous suburbia. The hero of the title is a Russian émigré, balding, middle aged, single and quirky. His life is dominated by an inability to settle into his lodgings, domestic traumas involving various gadgets (particularly heating systems) and a thick accent. I found Nabokov's sympathy for the character and his cynicism towards the establishment highly entertaining. Pnin bumbles along, worrying about a possible heart condition and interacting in an almost perpetually perplexed manner with fellow academics and fellow Russian émigrés. Pnin however has a history and Nabokov provides enlightening and sensitive accounts of his life prior to arriving in the US and past loves. I felt far more sympathy with Pnin than the deep wound of consumerism and personal ambition that scars the benevolent society that Pnin pursues.
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on 17 April 2001
while there is the constant feeling of patronizing adoration of the bumbling professor, there is always the looming battle between him and his health, and the memories of his dead lover. the undertones make this novel so wonderfly complex and nabokovian .. reminding the reader that even the most benign looking of characters have memories influencing their everyday lives... overall a wonderful book much lighter reading than palefire, lolita, ana, but very much worth it!
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on 28 August 2012
Nabokov's comic novel from 1957 centres on Timofey Pavlovich Pnin, a Russian exile teaching at the fictional Waindell College in the United States. Pnin is single, lives in rented accommodation, and his teaching position is untenured and insecure.

I listened to the reading by Stefan Rudnicki for Brilliance Audio, which is on 5 CDs. It was my first encounter with Nabokov.

The book left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the language is startlingly original, packed with memorable images and phrases. The skyline of New York, for example, is compared to a bar chart; Pnin is said to have discarded a football by means of 'defenestration'. It is also very funny: Pnin's unusual English proves a consistent pleasure.

Yet there is something tricksy about it. Some parts of the story are told by an omniscient narrator; later, an unidentified first person narrator takes up the story. It is all rather confusing, and in the end I wasn't quite sure what happened to Pnin. Perhaps all would become clear on a second listen.

Despite this reservation, it is clearly a work of quality. I would recommend it to others new to Nabokov.
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on 6 October 2001
Pnin is nothing like Seinfeld. Rather than being crass and unfunny it is gentle and often very amusing. The format reminded me for some reason, of The Pickwick Papers. Possibly because the eponymous hero muddles through a series of comedy set pieces, consistently arousing the reader's sympathies despite (or even because of) his anachronistic personality traits and his continous struggle to retain some dignity in a commercial culture far more cynical than his own. Whilst being written to the extraordinarily high level you would expect, this is far maore accessible than other Nabokov. Humility and humour makes this a personal favourite; and I really do very rarely "laugh out loud" whilst reading, but with this book I often couldn't help myself.
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