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Nabokov’s son to publish final manuscript

By Carol Eisenberg

April 24, 2008 at 11:46am

His dying father, Vladimir Nabokov, had commanded him to destroy his still-unfinished, final novel.

Instead, an agonized Dmitri Nabokov placed the novel - in the form of 50 index cards - in a Swiss bank vault. Now, more than 30 years later, the writer’s only child told Der Spiegel magazine that he had decided to publish The Original of Laura.

Speaking from his winter home in Palm Beach, Fla. this week, the 73-year-old Dmitri Nabokov justified his decision, saying, “I’m a loyal son and thought long and seriously about it. Then my father appeared before me and said, with an ironic grin, ‘You’re stuck in a right old mess - just go ahead and publish!’”

He told the magazine that he had finally made up his mind to do so.

Over the years, Dmitri Nabokov has described wrestling with the decision about what to do with The Original of Laura, which he has called “the most concentrated distillation of [my father’s] creativity.” As Nabokov’s literary executor, he said he felt a duty to share it with the world; as his son, he felt a duty to honor his father’s last wishes.

Dmitri Nabokov, who divides his time between Palm Beach, Fla. and Montreux, Switzerland, is a staunch advocate of his father’s literary legacy, and has translated many of his novels, plays, poems, lectures and letter.

In celebration of Vladimir Nabokov’s centennial in 1999, he appeared as his father in Terry Quinn’s Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya, a dramatic reading based on the personal letters between Nabokov and literary and social critic Edmund Wilson. Performances took place in New York, Paris, Mainz, and Ithaca.

Yet he is a multi-faceted personality with many other accomplishments. A profile that appeared in the Harvard Crimson in 2005 described a complex character.

Those who know him describe him as tall and imposing, with a face like his father’s, and one editor calls him “his father’s very best translator.”

But Dmitri has accrued a set of accolades and interests all his own.
“His love of fast boats and fast cars and helicopter skiing made him like a James Bond figure,” says Deanne Urmy, editor of Nabokov’s Butterflies, a collection of Vladimir’s writings which includes translations by Nabokov.

He is best known as an opera star. After graduating from Harvard with a concentration in history and literature, Dmitri Nabokov served briefly in the U.S. military as an instructor in Russian before deciding to pursue his dreams as a performer.

He made his operatic debut in 1961 in the same Milan performance of La Boheme as the now legendary Luciano Pavarotti. Among the highlights from his operatic career: performances at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona with soprano Montserrat Caballé and acclaimed Catalan tenor Jaume Aragall, better known as Giacomo Aragall.

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