Posted in Short Stories

Vladimir Nabokov: “That in Aleppo Once…”

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 40

Yes, this is a most useful universe. We play, we die: ig-rhyme, umi-rhyme. And the sonorous souls of Russian verbs lend a meaning to the wild gesticulation of trees or to some discarded newspaper sliding and pausing, and shuffling again,…But just now I am not a poet. I come to you like that gushing lady in Chekhov who was dying to be described.

Sometime in my early twenties (a little while ago) someone explained to me the significance of the Nabokov reference in The Police song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”. That was the first time I had ever heard of Vladimir Nabokov or his many-times banned novel Lolita. Again, I was in my early twenties so when I heard of a book anyone might tell me I shouldn’t read because of its content – well, I was sure to read it which I did with Lolita. Yes, its content is offensive and I respect anyone who decides not to read it on their own accord. At the same time, I’ve always remembered that there was something enjoyable about the way Nabokov put his words together. Something that made me read it in spite of the novel’s offense.

So now, all these years later, I’ve just finished reading Nabokov’s short story ‘”That in Aleppo Once…”‘ and it reminds me of his wonderful wordsmithing all over again. Only this time the content is more tame.

The narrator (Nabokov, himself, perhaps) is an author writing a letter to presumably another author, maybe also a friend. He tells his friend of his attempted escape from Europe during World War II with his new wife – who may or may not have existed. That’s the catch – is the narrator relating a story that is true, one that is made up, or some combination of both? I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter because there was – you know – the words.

I highly recommend this story to anyone who wants to experience Nabokov without experiencing Lolita.

‘”That in Aleppo Once…”‘ is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Ace of Spades for Week 40 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.