Drugie berega / Other Shores: The Missing Triptych

Submitted by Jim Buckingham on Sun, 06/16/2019 - 11:09

The trilogy of Nabokov's semi-autobiographies (fictional elements are within the autobiographies) starts with Conclusive Evidence (1951), continues with Drugie berega / Other Shores (1954) and concludes with Speak, Memory (the US version in 1966). Looking at a Chronology in one of my Everyman's Library editions neglects to mention the middle work at all, Drugie berega / Other Shores. It's as if the Russian translation of the English Conclusive Evidence is but a copy, a duplicate. That is a mistake.

While Speak, Memory does contain whole complete blocks of paragraphs copied directly from Conclusive Evidence word for word, many sections are new (being part of the expansion) or revised (part of the revision). So what about the one in the middle, the poor monkey in the middle?

Drugie berega is more than just a transitional text. It does contain some of the same material in Conclusive Evidence and also introduces other material later used in Speak, Memory. What marks its distinction though is that Other Shores also contains other material that is found in neither of the other two texts. Another especial marker is that Vladimir is again writing in Russian, after having written novels only in English for ten plus years (I am discounting Dar since that novel was written previously).

In Russian, VN will by necessity write differently than in English for a different audience. The expectation of Nabokov expecting Drugie berega to be re-translated back again into English during his pre-Lolita fame and success back in 1954 would not be a consideration on any horizon. This allows the author a freer hand. In truth, Drugie berega's style is more direct, frank and personal when compared to its older and younger siblings.

Attached then is a brief sampler of the significant difference in writing and style of Drugie berega. The English versions happen to be identical in this case, but many times they are not due to the expansion/revision text of Speak, Memory.

Thus, until one has read all of Drugie berega, you cannot say, "Oh, yes, I've read Nabokov's autobiography." It is time to bring Other Shores back to this shore.

~Jim Buckingham