Combined with typically beautiful language, these stories thrill with their puzzles and hidden depths. Vladimir Nabokov seems to be inviting his readers on a treasure hunt each time and his world is interesting and beautiful enough to marvel at while at this pleasure hunt.
1. Signs and Symbols
This short, seemingly simple story features the typical subtle layering that will be associated with Nabokov’s literary works. On the surface, it is a story about a mentally disturbed young son who tries to commit suicide, his holocaust-surviving Russian Jewish parents, and multiple phone calls, among other important events subtly woven into a narration that leaves a lot to interpretation.
Interpretations vary from the possibility of an alternate reality existing within the text to a strong indication that Nabokov was luring the reader into over-thinking in a manner symptomatic of a less severe variant of the mental sickness the son was suffering from.
2. Spring in Fialta
Nabokov wrote this story in Russian in 1936 during his time in exile in Berlin. Set In the fictional Mediterranean town of Fialta, the story follows, in rich metaphorical and poetic fashion, the attempts of two married individuals to rekindle and maintain a lost love.
In this story, Nabokov explored a lot of the literary themes and plot techniques that will characterize his later works such as the relationship to a Double, the recreation of events from memory, the sense of love, the issue of reality, among others.
3. Ultima Thule
Ultima represents the last of Nabokov’s writings in the Russian language before his move to the U.S. The story constituted a part of an abandoned book that was to be called ‘Sola Rex”. The story sees Nabokov explore the metaphysical and contains a riddle the reader will be called upon to solve, just as we will later see in Lolita.
4. A Nursery Tale
In this sufficiently erotic story, a man enters into a contract with the Devil disguised as an old woman and is granted the ability to sleep with as many women as he could as long as the number of women he chooses is an odd number.
Like a classic Greek tragedy, the fates conspire to deceive our protagonist and make his default on the contract. Nabokov weaves a supernatural world that contains elements of the pedophilia we would see in Lolita, determinism, the theme of selling one’s soul among others.