Bend Sinister: Trump The Toad
“This choice of a title was an attempt to suggest an outline broken by refraction, a distortion in the mirror of being, a wrong turn taken by life.”
Vladimir Nabokov, from the introduction to the 1963 edition of Bend Sinister
Donald Trump’s nightmarish occupancy of the US presidency has occasioned quite a few literary comparisons, causing sales spikes for such dystopian works as George Orwell’s 1984 and prompting arguments about whether other books more accurately envisioned what passes for our current version of reality: see Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
An admittedly cursory check around hasn’t turned up anyone else who, like me, makes the connection to Vladimir Nabokov’s 1947 novel Bend Sinister, about a bereaved world-renowned philosopher living in a totalitarian state run by the repulsive schoolmate he had once bullied and nicknamed “The Toad”. This tyrant, Paduk, rules via his Party Of The Average Man.
For me, Nabokov remains the supreme literary stylist, and Bend Sinister serves not just as an indicator of Trump and his goon squad’s intentions but of course as a typically refracted distillation of the author’s experiences of authoritarianism (he fled Russia in 1919 and then Hitler’s Germany in 1937 and Paris before the fall in 1939).
In this almost unbearably sad book, the central character Adam Krug is as angered and repelled by the dictator Paduk as all right-thinking people should be by Trump.
This is from the critic John Metcalf’s Sunday Times review:
“Mr Nabokov’s loathing for tyranny, his hatred of high-minded cruelty comes spitting hotly from every line. The book is clearly written out of deep and enduring anger. And it’s significant that his anger was directed (even at that date) against a dictatorship of ordinariness.”
Buy copies of Bend Sinister here.