“If only the interest he provokes were limited to his immediate surroundings, but, alas, it is not!… Still farther away, great mountains of data mining sum up, in zeroes and ones, the ultimate truth of his being.”

KA Semënova updates Nabokov‘s short story “Signs and Symbols” (and works by other famous Russian authors) for McSweeney’s, “teh internets” and the digital world.

This is delightful, sister would definitely approve. 


Carl Saltzman, first electric streetlights, 1884

Carl Saltzman, first electric streetlights, 1884

The Fight by Vladimir Nabokov

Another first person point-of-view character. A man who finds himself in Berlin during the summer. Bathing and sunning himself in the beach, our narrator finds himself becoming close friends with a local barkeep who also frequents the same beach. The barkeep, the barkeep’s daughter, and the electrician who is in love with her. A drunken narrator who finds himself one night observing a dispute between the father and the lover over an unpaid bar tab. 

The way this story is written is as if you are sitting in the bar with our narrator. You can smell the beer, feel the damp air, that sweaty kind of grime that only comes with drinking one too many on a hot summer afternoon. 

I neither know nor wish to know who was wrong and who was right in this affair. The story could have been given a different twist, and made to depict compassionately how a girl’s happiness had been mortified for the sake of a copper coin, how Emma spent the whole night crying, and how, after falling asleep toward morning, she saw again, in her dreams, the frenzied face of her father as he pummelled her lover. Or perhaps what matters is not the human pain or joy at all but, rather, the play of shadow and light on a live body, the harmony of trifles assembled on this particular day, at this particular moment, in a unique and inimitable way. 

This is the last paragraph in the story and I smiled the entire time I was reading it. I felt as if Nabokov stepped outside of his story and was standing in front of a lectern discussing the way a writer’s mind works. The way the writer taps into the reader and pulls threads in one direction or another. 

Of the three Berlin stories I have reviewed today, this one is my favourite. There was an unanticipated build up to the fight that you knew was coming (having read the title). I knew it was going to be a major part of the story but I didn’t know when or where it would take place. Despite knowing it was coming, it still caught me off guard. It is difficult to describe. The pacing was astounding. Just the right amount of tension, of observation, of story-telling. That is what this story is, a bar-story, something you’d tell to your friend while drinking several beers. 

Definitely worth reading. 


A Letter That Never Reached Russia by Vladimir Nabokov

This story contains an odd point of view. Nabokov often detaches himself from his stories. There is usually some filter or distance that allows his characters to step outside of themselves (and us along with them). 

First person narration of a narrator who is writing to his lover. Our narrator (may be male or female) lives in Berlin and describes various vignettes of night-time life: the middle-aged whore standing on the corner, a Great Dane being walked by a pretty little girl, a man coming home after a day of work. 

These observations feel more at home with a journal and less so with a letter that never reaches its intended audience. 

The ending of this short story becomes a treatise on the philosophy of what is or is not considered “fashion” and how temporary and cyclical this notion is. It feels a bit ‘get off my lawn’ in the final few paragraphs. 

And then there is this shoe-horned reflection about a local story of a young woman who committed suicide on her mother’s grave. 

I am not sure what kind of love-letter this is. The narrator ends this letter by claiming that he/she is happy and content. 

It becomes rather messy and I did not enjoy this particular work. 

I’ve often commented on how Nabokov uses his short-stories to test ideas, to try out various points of view, scenes, settings, dialogue, etc. 

I may re-read this to see if it improves upon a second reading. 


The Thunderstorm by Vladimir Nabokov

This is such a wondrous short-story. An elderly man returns home just as the wind picks up and and a storm approaches. The man sleeps and dreams. He awakens and sees the storm manifest as a fallen prophet named Elijah. Elijah who brings the storm with him, riding a chariot driven by horses. 

"The light of madness, of piercing visions, illumined the nocturnal world, the metal slopes of roofs, the fleeing lilac bushes. The Thunder-god, a white-haired giant with a furious beard blown back over his shoulder by the wind, dressed in the flying folds of a dazzling raiment, stood, leaning backward, in his fiery chariot, restraining with tensed arms his tremendous, jet-black steeds, their manes a violet blaze."

It really is difficult to describe how beautiful and vivid this short-story is. That this old man glimpses a God from up on high descending down into the mortal realm is fantastical already. Nabokov takes it a step further. Our “Thunder-god” finds that his chariot has lost a wheel and the elderly man helps him search so that he can resume his journey. 

Beautiful and lush vocabulary, the fantastical, the absurd, we are deep in Nabokov country. 

A lovely aside, well worth five minutes of your time. 



I stood in front of this portrait for a solid twenty minutes Saturday afternoon. If you’re not aware, here is a bit more context

Francis Bacon was obsessed with a particular portrait of Pope Innocent X. He painted at least 45 variations of the Pope. Bacon himself was an outspoken atheist and viewed religion in a fairly pessimistic point of view. But he was enthralled by what might have been the inner workings of such a man in such a position. 

Bacon was a fascinating man. 

One part of the exhibit that we viewed that I am still thinking about concerns his homosexuality. A relationship between the bigotry and persecution that he faced with the type of artwork that he is exploring was established. Homosexual who was troubled = weird violent shit. And while I do not know if this is true or not, it felt lazy to me. Maybe there is an actual basis for this relationship between art and artist, but there was something about it that didn’t feel right. 

Either way, a complex individual who explored ideas through his art in a unique and beautiful way. 


The Hideous Head

My darling Van,

Brother, you stir me this morning with such images. Allow me to share with you one of my favourite Bacon works.


Is it not terrible? Is it not glorious?

I suspect we all long for such a room of our own. A place we can go to scream.

Your devoted sister,


Terror and Beauty

Dear Sister, 

I thought of you this weekend [while with my ‘other’ sister] as I was walking through the Art Gallery of Ontario. An exhibit featuring the many sculpted works of Henry Moore and the mad paintings of Francis Bacon, two giants of British Modernism. Both reacting to the trauma and horrors of World War II, having experienced the Nazi bomb raid of London. 

Francis Bacon in particular is an artist I think you should seek out. Might I recommend finding an art-book the next time you’re at your local book-store. 

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1988

Bacon was fascinated with the mouth. Some of the placards at the museum made reference to the fact that this might be because of his troubles with asthma, and his time during the war. He was very much concerned with the primal man, the beast that rests within all of us and the horrors that we are capable of. 

Where Francis Bacon wanted to dig deep beneath the surface, picking at the skin and exploring the guts underneath. Henry Moore was more concerned with the body as a place of resistance. 

Reclining Figure, 1951

My ‘other’ sister tended to gravitate towards Moore while I found myself circling back to Bacon. Both artists were fascinating and I need to remind myself to visit the museum more often. It was three hours well spent. 

Thinking of you and art. 


Lolita carpet, 1999 by artist Barbara Bloom


Lolita carpet, 1999 by artist Barbara Bloom


"If we want life’s sundial to show its hand," commented Van, developing the metaphor in the rose garden of Ardis Manor at the end of August, 1884, "we must always remember that the strength, the dignity, the delight of man is to spite and despise the shadows and stars that hide their secrets from us.”

"If we want life’s sundial to show its hand," commented Van, developing the metaphor in the rose garden of Ardis Manor at the end of August, 1884, "we must always remember that the strength, the dignity, the delight of man is to spite and despise the shadows and stars that hide their secrets from us.”

Found during my run this morning. 

Found during my run this morning. 



SUMMER UPDATE: Blogging about Blogging.

Sister and I are still here gentle readers. We still love Vladimir Nabokov. We’re just busy with summer things and other “real-life” things: work, school, children, parents, bachelor parties, writing short stories, reading cryptic horror novels, etc. My how the world fills itself up. 

We miss you. We’re still here. Keep an eye out. An occasional short story review may rear its head. 

All our love.


V.V. & A.V.