Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sundays: Nabokov’s “Natasha”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Each Sunday I’ll write about a short story available online. If you read the story, please add your thoughts in the comments!

Nabokov’s story “Natasha,” written around 1924, was translated by his son Dmitri and published in a 1998 issue of the New Yorker.

One of the things I love about Nabokov’s writing is how he deals with the same themes in many of his works – not always, and not always in the same way, but there are questions of reality and memory and perception of the present and the future and the past that recur in his writing.

Natasha is about three people living in a boarding house: Khrenov and his daughter Natasha, and their across-the-hall neighbor Baron Wolfe. Khrenov has been sick for years, and though at story’s start Natasha believes his health his improving, he himself feels that he is about to die: “I don’t know what you’ve been hearing, but I do know perfectly well that I’ll die tomorrow.”

Although he’s bedridden, Khrenov has a clear sense of reality, expressed via his awareness of where people are and what they’re doing. He announces, seconds before she unlocks the door, that his daughter has arrived home; or at another time, that Wolfe has gone out.

The realities that Natasha and Wolfe have, and the stories they tell, are different, drawing into question what reality is, exactly: what “really” happens, or what we know or feel to have happened?

The story ends where you expect it to. It’s how Nabokov gets there that makes it so interesting.

Read “Natasha”

Read a McSweeney’s piece about reviews of a Nabokov story, submitted under the name “Jonathan Shade”

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