Catholics in low esteem; they went tonchurch only on Easter or Christmas.nH is earliest recollections were of learningnhis letters—in English before Russian—andnof discovering that each had antexture and color of its own. His mothernwas delighted; they shared that perceptionnand even agreed on some. To thenboy, a hard “g” was vulcanized rubber, anFrench “a” evoked polished ebony andn”n” had the loose texture of oatmeal.nMusic, which evoked visions to hisnmother, was merely an irritant to thenboy, but his younger brother Sergeyninherited that faculty. But Nabokov’snfather was passionate in the pursuit ofnbutterflies, and the boy shared that delight.nIn such an atmosphere, where everyndesire could be gratified and pleasurenwas not yet associated with guilt,nNabokov learned the greatest of aristocraticntruths, and possessions lost thatninordinate value they create in those whoncannot have them. “I inherited,” he said,n”a sense of the beauty of intangible property,nunreal estate—and this proved ansplendid training for the endurance ofnlater losses.”niVIademoiselle’s arrival, when Nabokovnwas so young, was, therefore, a recreation.nHis vision of the station, the coachman,nthe sleigh and even the night was ancreative act. Yet its truth is undeniablenand his memories in general, equallyncreative, are equally truthful. He inheritednfrom his father an ability to recalln”a patch of the past” in complete andnminute color and detail. One suchnmoment, which remained fixed in hisnmind, was the sight of the first butterflynhe coveted. “Pale yellow, withnblack blotches, blue crenels, cinnabarneyespot above each chrome-rimmed blackntail…” A servant caught it for him and,nunsure of how to preserve it, imprisonednit in a closet. When they opened the doornthe treasure escaped. He caught it again,nforty years later, in Boulder, Colorado.nHow could a boy of seven know that hisnearly passion, awakened by a yellow butterflynwould, in his maturity, provide annescape from the narrow world of exile.”nThe other great gateway from thenmundane levels of life swung open whennhe was fifteen, and took refuge in anpavilion at Vyra Park from a thunderstorm.nThe eternal world of poetry wasnrevealed to him when “the sheer weightnof a raindrop, shining in parasitic luxurynon a cordate leaf, caused the tip to dip,nand what looked like a globule of quicksilvernperformed a sudden glissando downnthe center vein, and then, having shednits bright load, the relieved leaf unbent.nTip, leaf, dip, relief—the instant it allntook to happen seemed to me not so muchna fraction of time as a fissure in it. . .”nBut these and other events are toldnonly in snatches, with their meaningsnconveyed in oblique and indirect allusions.n”Slides” are shown by the magician,nas if to an audience of inattentive childrennwhose attentions are short who must,nalways, be entertained, tricked andnamused until they are captured by thenconclusion.nSome of the slides horrify. Peeringnfrom an oriel in his mother’s boudoir innSt. Petersburg he saw “a dead man beingncarried away on a stretcher, and fromnone dangling leg an ill-shod comradenkept trying to pull off the boot.” Somenmock the simplicities of the Darwinians,nas when he observed “a protective devicen. . . carried to the point of mimeticnsubtlety, exuberance, and luxury far innexcess of a predator’s powers of appreciation.nI discover,” he added, “in naturennonutilitarian delights I sought in art.nBoth were a form of magic, both were angame of intricate enchantment and deception.”n{t2!(C’& added).nOnly rarely does aristocratic disdainnappear, as in his downward look at Freud,nheld high in the world, whom he describesnas living in “a vulgar, shabby,nfundamentally medieval world, with itsncrankish quest for sexual symbols {somethingnlike searching for Baconian acrosticsnin Shakespeare’s works) and its bitternlittle embryos spying, from their naturalnnooks, upon the love life of their parents.”nBut even that thrust ends in a laugh.nFor Nabokov enjoyed life, and couldnlaugh. He knew, as indeed he could notnhelp but know, that his liberal father, annnmember of Kerensky’s cabinet, hadnhelped release forces that had, as hisngrandmother predicted, turned them allninto paupers. But Nabokov loved andnrespected his father, whom he describednas a member of “the great classless intelligentsianof Russia.” He did not despisenthe impulses that beggared the family.nThe slides appear endless, and theynflash kaleidoscopically; each arrestingnenough to catch and immerse the readerncompletely. The curtained compartmentsnof Wagon-Lits and Biarritz in the oldndays; the atmosphere of Berlin whennHitler was running for office againstnHindenburg; the smug chambers ofnCambridge intellectuals who would hearnno evil of the saintly Lenin. It is onlyntoward the end of the performance, whichnstrings together pieces that privatelynrequired painful hours to cut and polish,nthat the magician unbends toward thenaudience he has held enthralled.nHe had spent, he says, “a prodigiousnamount of time” during the years of exilednpoverty in Europe, in creating and solvingnchess problems. In May, 1940, with thenNazis on the horizon of France, he finallynreceived, by a bribe “to the right rat atnthe right office” a visa to go to America.nWith his wife and child asleep in thennext room, he exulted with cigarettesnand by drawing one such chess problemnlate at night. Years later he provides thatnproblem, which symbolizes the positionnin which life had placed him, and thenmethod by which he had managed ton”mate Black.”nH aving thrown that large key to thenaudience the magician bows, says a fewngraceful words of parting, and brings to anclose thevignettes,thejokes, the asidesandnthe slides of the life of Vladimir Nabokov.nOnly then does it become clear thatnthe great artist did not weave his web tondisclose, but to share. All of us who readntoday are either already cultural exilesnor threatened by that possibility. Nabokovnhas not only described the essence ofnthat condition, but has also drawn ournattention to the fading of the light—whilenall the time we thought he was simplynbeing amusing. DnChronicles of Culturen