do you remember how dread began when words started to deform? One after another, your words contorted like an impaled vampire at the break of day, disappearing in the black holes of the outlander to transmute into the demons that endlessly pursue you.
Words – your life’s backups – lost their initial meanings! The foundation stones of your existence ceased to exist! Submerged into the English idiolect of New York and America, your beautiful Russian vanished the way snails retract their horns of irony, sharpness and cynicism, seeking shelter in the shells of their own silence. Beauty vanished into an unrecognizable dimension, sunk into a silent darkness and the result of the silence was that you yourself turned into a ghost! Even your kilograms were detracted into pounds and inches substituted your centimeters. Your body lost its acknowledged dimensions! A grotesqueness of measurements with numbers that in like manner are as strange as the words that describe them. You’ve become a ghost of the urban thicket, lost in the streets of a fearless city that scares immigrants.
What good is a word if there’s nobody to hear it? What’s the sense of a beautifully dolled up sentence if it only remains in your brain cells, as if covered up by river stones? Now and then only a trout darts calmly by, without paying any attention. You thought in Russian, Vladimir. You dreamed in Russian, you jerked off and cursed in Russian, Vladimir. The ocean of English was an unknown region to you. Whores didn’t know which recognized category to place you in and on Eighth Avenue they recoiled from your voracious look. But more than for sex, you craved and yearned for understanding. Even bartenders eschewed to stay clear of you as they poured you a vodka quickie and departed to the far end of the bar, as far away as possible from you and your burden. Stranded on the shore of an unknown language you began to lose your mind.
You let your flag fly at half-mast and thereafter, slowly, breathlessly, you took it down and off of the mast that was once your homeland and put it aside. Again, soundlessly! No “Podmoskovniye vechera” or bugle accompanied that last act optionally known as: solitude. You dived into the cacophony of New York and just like New York did not understand you, you didn’t understand New York. On Times Square America glittered with all its stars, while Russia was somewhere far away, far beyond the oceans and continents, drifting off into darkness. Do you remember, Vladimir, how in that radiance you longed for that darkness although at the same time it terrified you so much that you couldn’t even budge?
Migration into a language was tougher than anything you could imagine. Wherever you went, you wanted to talk, yet your thoughts were still molded in Russian and you had nobody to recount them to. The Russian emigrants didn’t like you and on top of that they overly reminded you of the home to which you could no longer return and so you yourself avoided contacts with them. In you yourself words lived in an aloneness of their own. Whatever you did every day was like composing a symphony for the deaf, making a movie for the blind, writing a book for the illiterate or like communication forwarded to an unknown cosmos. You suffered, Vladimir, suffered engrossed in writing in a script that nobody here understood, suffered over the words, over the letters, suffered, from morning to night. Yes, migration into a language was tougher than anything you could imagine.
New York City, March of 1999
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Roman’s legendary translator, Slobodan Drenovac, has found this Open Letter to Nabokov in, of all places, The National Archives in the United Kingdom, written in Roman’s native Croatian language. (original Croatian text is here) At great cost to his sanity Fred – as friends call Mr. Drenovac – embarked on translating the letter.