Saturday, July 25, 2009

Five best novels about immigrants in America

Matthew Kaminski, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, named his five favorite novels about immigrants in America for his newspaper.

One title on the list:
by Vladimir Nabokov
Doubleday, 1957

Timofey Pnin, the 52-year-old with “a glossy bald head” who teaches Russian at “somewhat provincial” Waindell College, is lost. Train schedules, the proper use of articles in English and the habits of the natives routinely stump him. His is a common immigrant’s plight. Yet there’s no one quite like Pnin in literature, or life. Among Nabokov’s creations, he’s the anti-Humbert Humbert—that is, a man very different from the wayward ­narrator of “Lolita,” also a foreigner in America. Pnin, Nabokov once ­explained, is “a man of great moral courage, a pure man, a scholar and a staunch friend, serenely wise, faithful to a single love, he never descends from a high plane of life characterized by authenticity and integrity.” He is also a comically tragic, absent-minded and endearing character—an intellectual cast adrift in America and ­nostalgic for a lost world. In Pnin’s case, as in Nabokov’s, the lost world is that of pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Read about the other four books on Kaminski's list.

Pnin also appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best breakages in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue