“Invitation to a Beheading” by Vladimir Nabokov


This book also follows from the recommended reading list by Azfar Nafisi and I had completed it in 2 days flat a month ago but have been dallying writing its review as there is so much to write about not only because I deify Nabokov but more so because of how you find the book is a lot dependent on the time you have read it and I chanced to read this book while I was undergoing my first surgery and hence could relate so much to Cincinn10498516atus C. I shared his fate of being objectified at the hands of people around- who define your walk, sleep, food and in his case even dance and games. From one’s own perspective, everything about us is of prime importance and thus it is shattering when we are reduced to the status of objects at the hands of some chosen strangers.Thus the book will always hold a special place in my mind, linking the events in my life with those in the book!

The book begins with the judge whispering the death sentence in his ear. His crime is just alluded to as “Gnostical turpitude” but never explicated; perhaps his crime was just fact that he questioned everything and was different from the rest of population. The society that Nabokov creates in the novel wherein people don’t think and only act in a predefined manner reminds me of Ayn Rand’s novel- “Anthem” but his writing style in this is very similar to the dreamlike reality style adeptly fabricated by Kafka.

The most disturbing part of the novel was the manner in which executioner occupied the adjacent prison cell and befriends him. In school, I had read a short story (don’t remember the author or the title now) where the executioner doesn’t ever try to know or look at the person he is executing. He just pulls the plug as a mere job without any emotional connect and the story ends with his realization that the last person he had executed was his son. In this novel, the whole premise that the executioner tries to befriend him before executing him is sinister. (PS: The synopsis at the back of the book is a spoiler as it discloses his identity; in the novel he reveals himself as the executioner only at the end of the novel).

Also as Cinnacatus says the only advantage of a death sentence is that a firm date is set on the inevitable fate of death so you can make up your mind and plan your remaining days accordingly but in his case he is even deprived of even that basic right and he passes each day with uncertainty. Thus he scribbles furiously, not knowing whether he will be able to finish his writing or now and he writes with passion, although he knows his work will perhaps never be read or understood by anyone. Although the book does mention he keeps reading books that had been written in the past but it is not mentioned whether the books are good literature or the society has destroyed good literature and only kept trash for mindless reading.

Cincinnatus spends 19 days in prison and each chapter is dedicated to each day and the 20th chapter to his final hanging. The pencil with which he writes is like a time keeper and the day of the beheading, his pencil dwindles to a barely holdable stub with which he strikes out the last word-death.

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A dreamer. An intellectual, spoiled by the world of literature trying to find sanity through traveling and expression through Visual Art and writing! Hope you like my expressions on this blog!!

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