Saturday, 28 August 2021

Short story “Signs and Symbols" by Vladimir Nabokov - review

 “Signs and Symbols" by Vladimir Nabokov:

Whatever one thinks of Nabokov, the man can write. He is a master of his art and a good example of it is the short story “Signs and Symbols”, first published in the New Yorker in May 15, 1948. It is a truly remarkable short story and I strongly recommend to read it. It is a short story, indeed and will only take 10 to 15 minutes of your time, but they are worth it.

This haunting little tale, more a sketch than a story, is being propelled by the feeling of threat in an otherwise normal-seeming situation and follows an elderly immigrant couple in New York who plan to visit their son on his birthday. This son has been hospitalized for years now in a sanitorium, as he suffers from a mental disorder in which he reads everything about the world around him referring to him in code, a code he must decipher. And as we follow his mind we also begin to suspect that everything in this story, every fine little detail might be imbued with hidden meaning, everything in life might be just “signs and symbols”.

The couple returns home after the visit, resolving, albeit with mixed feelings to bring back home their son the next day. The story nears its end, there is a mysterious phone call, repeatedly, with dreadful news to the couple and we are left to guess and fill out the masterly left out blanks. Within a few pages Nabokov was able to compose a huge drama and hold us in its grip. 

As it was originally published in The New Yorker:

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