A Tribute to Dmitri Nabokov

Lila Azam Zanganeh, author of The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness, remembers Dmitri Nabokov, the only child of the novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Dmitri was a womanizer, whose life resembled a James Bond film. But he was also his father’s best translator. It’s a beautiful tribute:

Dmitri was also a womanizer, once known in the Italian press as “Lolito,” seducer extraordinaire. His life — mountaineering in Wyoming and British Columbia, singing in Medellín and Milan, racing cars and boats along the Mediterranean, carousing with handsome girls — was something out of a James Bond film. When I asked him why he had never married, he told me life had slipped away too quickly. Sensing he was being disingenuous, I later ventured to ask again. This time, quietly, almost in a whisper, he said his parents had been “twin souls,” and he knew it would “always remain impossible to match what they had had.”

What became apparent in Dmitri in later years was the remnant of that lost world. It came with a sense of compassion and dignity, of patience and nobility, despite his foibles, his occasional childlike demands, his folie des grandeurs. As he neared the age of his father’s death, it remained just as impossible for Dmitri to accept that “Father” was no more. Often, when he evoked his parents, Dmitri’s ice-blue eyes would begin to drift out of focus. I caught him at his desk one afternoon watching a YouTube montage called “Nabokov and the Moment of Truth,” which juxtaposes film clips and stills of his parents and himself. He was in his wheelchair, leaning deeply into the computer screen, silently crying.

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