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Novelist Nabokov Finally Published in Soviet Union

August 27, 1986|Associated Press

MOSCOW — A small-circulation Soviet chess magazine has printed the first work by Vladimir Nabokov ever openly published in his native land, hailing the once-banned emigre author of "Lolita" as a master of "sparkling language."

Publication of a 2,000-word excerpt from Nabokov's memoirs in the magazine 64--the title refers to the number of squares on a chessboard--came nine years after the writer died and more than 30 years after his novel "Lolita" became a sensation in the West.

The magazine said the excerpt was from Nabokov's 1954 book called "Different Shores" in Russian, which was published in English under the title "Speak, Memory."

Its publication appeared to be part of an undercurrent of change in Soviet cultural life hinting at a rehabilitation of selected authors that have been suppressed by the authorities.

The most famous names mentioned in this context are Boris Pasternak, author of the banned novel "Doctor Zhivago," and Nabokov, who left his native Russia in 1919 to become one of the great authors of the mid-20th Century.

Pasternak, who died in 1960 in official disgrace, has been recognized this year with a special two-volume edition of his poems, including the verses from "Doctor Zhivago." The novel, which has never been published in the Soviet Union, helped Pasternak win the 1958 Nobel Prize for literature and led to his expulsion from the Soviet Writers Union.

Nabokov--born to an aristocratic family in St. Petersburg, now Leningrad, in 1899--became a U.S. citizen in 1945. He died in Switzerland in 1977 at the age of 78. Although widely read in underground editions in the Soviet Union, Nabokov was dismissed by Soviet authorities for decades as a practitioner of "literary snobbism" and "distortions" of socialist heroes.

"Lolita," the 1955 novel about a middle-aged European man's obsession with a 12-year-old American nymphet, is still confiscated from travelers entering the country and is unlikely to be published anytime soon.

But in July, Mikhail Alexeyev, editor of the literary journal called Moscow, said in a newspaper interview that he was seeking permission to publish "The Defense," a Nabokov novel.

Encouraged by what they perceived as a more open attitude toward Nabokov, officials at the chess magazine 64 decided to score a small cultural triumph and get another Nabokov piece published first, according to a source with close ties to the magazine.

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