Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000162, Wed, 15 Dec 1993 11:47:58 -0800

tokalosh (fwd)
Here is the first detailed response to my piece on the purported early
Nabokov story "Tokalosh". My thanks to Professor Barabtarlo who is one of a
handful of people who have seen the original text. I have made minor
editing changes in Professor Barabtarlo's text. THE EDITOR

P.S. If you missed my mini-essay on "Tokoalosh" and wish to see it,
let me know. DBJ

I firmly believe that "Tokalosh" has, and can have,nothing to do
with VN. Here are, briefly, my main arguments.

-- It's not that the style is flat: the thing is written decently, but by
a non-artist, someone who has no notion of (artistic) prose, which VN
always had as his compass. FOr instance, look at the structure of the thing
(absent!) and compare it to anything juvenile in VN. Or, even more glaring:
look at the LENGTH OF THE SENTENCES: they are all short and the rhythm is
thus rendered horrendously choppy. VN ALWAYS played with longish, long,
and very long periods. Also, he never (I think) went for such short

-- To name the narrator Vladimir is impossible for the Russian
Nabokov, and is vaguely employed only once in the English one (Pnin).

-- The author is quite indifferent to, and innocent of, descriptive detail,
and so you can't tell anything about the appearance of his father, cannot
recall any THING in its peculiarity, no coloristics, no smells, no singular
gestures (except the half-closed eyelids of T. -- rather odd, by the way).
VN, of course, revelled in such things from the start (and overdid it
through the profusion of parenthetical characteristics and asides)

-- The relationship betw. the father and the young son is psychologically
unconvincing: why would he tell his son such frank and embarrassing news,
and ask his opinion (in the end)?

-- The name Tokalosh IS queer, but then perhaps the thing IS a real
memoir? It's hard to imagine that anybody would make it up. The Tokalon
hint strikes me as off. The French "chocolat" is less meaningful
but more complete as an anagram, but just as implausible in my view. (or
"cachalot" -- let's say, "VN" wanted to make a joke hinged on "LUKASH"'s
big head". Nonsense).

As for the nom de guerre: why would VN sign a pastiche with his own n.de
g., instead of a "Vas. Shishkov" sort? And, by the way, it may be well
worth checking on a Dmitri Iur'evich KOBIAKOV, who signed his poetry
SIRIN in the 1920s, in emigration (says Masanov, and gives reference:
Russkaia Kniga, 1921, You may want to strike out
the Caucasus (and Lermontov connexion), for it takes place in Central
Asia, most probably Turkestan (viz. the Kurds crossing the border). Also,
Tok's district has no Germans -- these are the Asians (he was assigned to
a German settlement only at the beginning of the story).