Nabokov chose to relate his love story ...
THE OTHER COLUMN: Confessions of a boor — Ejaz Haider
I am told that magical realism is a big thing nowadays, courtesy Latin America (primarily), a continent which produces rebels, juntas, anti-Americanism, civil wars, drug cartels and fantasists, not necessarily in the same orderPure coincidence it is but shows how uneducated I am.In Islamabad, on an impulse, I pick up a book by Italo Calvino called “Why Read the Classics?” even though this is not the stuff I read — at least not anymore. A compilation of 36 essays translated for the first time in English, I start reading randomly and come across the one on Jorge Luis Borges, the Latin American writer who is supposed to be the doyen of magical realists — including Marquez’ — but who I have never read. [ ... ]Irwin then goes on to say: “A discussion of the lack of influence on, say, William Blake, Evelyn Waugh and Vladimir Nabokov might have been just as rewarding.” Only, when Irwin went to St Petersburg in 2001 and went to the Nabokov family home which they had abandoned before fleeing to Germany, what does he find in the now-Nabokov Museum among the few volumes of the original family library: “...there in a glass case I spotted a copy of the fin de siècle translation by Mardus of the Nights.”Surprising as this was for me, a few lines further down Irwin mentions the essay Borges wrote on the “Translators of the Thousand and One Nights” which reaffirms Calvino’s discussion in the essay of a Borges poem that refers to the Nights. So Borges knew about the Nights. And if I didn’t know until a few days ago that he did, that only shows, again, that I need a break from hackwork and must acquire some education.In any case, I am told that magical realism is a big thing, courtesy Latin America (primarily), a continent which regularly produces rebels, juntas, anti-Americanism, civil wars, drug cartels and fantastic fantasists, not necessarily in the same order. It seems to me that most of these magical realists were and are familiar with the Nights, the ultimate narration and reading in fantasy, but one that may be described in terms of the Borgesian conception of the interactive dynamic between fantasy and reality, art and life. But the worst confession on my part, one that certifies my philistinism, is that I have not read Nabokov’s Ada. Because if I had, I wouldn’t need Irwin’s preface to find out that Nabokov knew about the Nights. This is how Irwin describes it:“The sight of the Nabokovs’ copy of Mardus’s version of the Nights made me think again. I returned to England and my library and found my copy of Ada (1969), which is Nabokov’s most luxuriant novel... Its eroticism and its fantasy parallel that of the Nights and the contribution of the Arab story collection to the manner in which Nabokov chose to relate his love story is perhaps covertly acknowledged in the novel when Ada goes questing in the family library for erotica and finds a copy of the Arabian Nights.” [ ... ]Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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