25 February 2012
Dmitri Nabokov is dead. As a boy he walked between Vera and Vladimir towards a ship which would take the family to America, away from the trials of Europe. Vladimir described the moment in the last, heart-stopping paragraph of his great memoir Speak Memory. His parents see the ship but cannot bring themselves to point it out to the boy as the astonishing vision would then be over.
There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbor, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture – Find What the Sailor Has Hidden – that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.
The father’s genius had immortalised the son, not to mention the pale-blue and pink underwear..