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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature / biography

The Enchanter

Lila Azam Zanganeh

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To purchase The Enchanter

Title: The Enchanter
Author: Lila Azam Zanganeh
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2011
Length: 198 pages
Availability: The Enchanter - US
The Enchanter - UK
The Enchanter - Canada
The Enchanter - India
L'enchanteur - France
Der Zauberer Nabokov und das Glück - Deutschland
Un incantevole sogno di felicità - Italia
  • Nabokov and Happiness
  • Illustrations by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creative take on Nabokov and his work, ultimately quite winning

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 3/6/2011 Ángel Gurría-Quintana
The Guardian . 28/5/2011 Catriona Kelly
The LA Times . 24/4/2011 Susan Salter Reynolds
The NY Observer . 10/5/2011 James Camp
Scotland On Sunday A+ 29/5/2011 Stuart Kelly
The Telegraph D 23/5/2011 Nicholas Shakespeare
TLS . 29/7/2011 Ivan Juritz
Wall St. Journal . 4/5/2011 Alexander Theroux

  From the Reviews:
  • "On this point, however, her book is unsatisfying. She omits explicit references to her own back-story, perhaps out of a reasonable desire to avoid comparisons with that other Nabokov-themed memoir by an Iranian expatriate, Reading Lolita in Tehran. Yet her reluctance to explore the connections makes her appear coy, even cagey. (...) So at one does Zanganeh feel with Nabokov that the bookís final chapter simply stitches quotes from the old masterís works into her own dream-like text. Itís an amusing conceit, well executed, but perhaps sheds more light on her opinion of her own writing than on her subject." - Ángel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times

  • "Though some aspects of The Enchanter are achingly arch (...), there are hints that the author is sharper-witted than her narratorial pose would often suggest. (...) In some respects, the book takes risks. (...) Yet Zanganeh's relationship with Nabokov, however carefully calculated, remains on occasions less happy than haphazard. (...) As a writer, Zanganeh entirely lacks Nabokov's genial pedantry. She can be imprecise, even sloppy. (...) All the same, The Enchanter has some resemblance, in places, to a genuine book -- an artist's book, even, though one turned out by the machine of international publishing." - Catriona Kelly, The Guardian

  • "In this adventuring spirit, the author leads us through the work and life of her favorite author, who died when she was just 10 months old. It is a contagion of happiness, a landscape of luminous discovery. Facts, words, characters, style, invention -- she writes in flashes, like a camera lens opening and closing." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "As a way of saying something meaningful about another writer, however, creative reading largely does not succeed. The Enchanter may make you want to read Nabokov, but it lacks insight into him." - James Camp, The New York Observer

  • "(I)f the intention is to send the reader back to the works of Vladimir Nabokov with newly polished eyes and an eager appetite, it succeeds without question. But it is more than a literary springboard from which to launch oneself back to the classics: it is a thing of beauty in its own right. (...) Her own prose is just as limpid and bevelled as the work of the Enchanter himself." - Stuart Kelly, Scotland On Sunday

  • "Her book on Nabokov is written in this sensitive vein. Everything quivers, or quavers. (...) (T)he authorís excess of self-consciousness is cloying. Striving for a wisdom and a charm she has yet to earn, she remains in Humbert Humbertís lethal phrase, "Ďa college girlí -- that horror of horrors"." - Nicholas Shakespeare, The Telegraph

  • "Zanganeh's book belongs to a genre that might best be glossed as reader's memoir, such as Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage and Nicholson Baker's U and I (.....) She lacks the wry self-deprecation of Dyer or Baker, and the joy she finds in emulating Nabokov's writing is not at all times shared by the reader." - Ivan Juritz, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(S)he misses the core. What Nabokov valued, perhaps above all else, was what he could preserve in memory and save from oblivion." - Alexander Theroux, Wall Street Journal

  • "To the average reader, though -- even the most enthusiastic and bookish among us -- The Enchanted has a lot of the same problems as Nabokov's work. Beautiful though many of its stories are, it's hard to avoid the creeping sensation that it is all, well, a bit up itself." - Viv Groskop, Independent on Sunday (29/5/2011)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In The Enchanter Lila Azam Zanganeh takes a creative approach to reading and reflecting on the works of Vladimir Nabokov, and on the author. Despite an opening sentence that claims and warns, "I have always dreaded reading and books", Azam Zanganeh has certainly immersed herself in the books she discusses here. Concentrating here on Lolita, Ada, and Speak, Memory, she delves into and revels in Nabokov's world(s) with abandon. "We read to reenchant the world", and that is what she tries to convey here, focusing on Nabokov's own joy in his creative work.
       The Enchanter offers everything from re-tellings of Lolita and Ada to the flights of fancy the novels engender. Azam Zanganeh accounts for much of Nabokov's life (leaning heavily and quoting extensively from Brian Boyd's two-volume biography), but also spins her own fantasies: she notes at the opening that she was a mere ten months when Nabokov died, yet also presents what she claims is an interview (but, of course, can't be) she conducted with Nabokov some ten months after he completed Ada (photograph included -- 'VN and me by Lake Como' --, and Nabokov convincingly described peeking "at an index card deftly concealed in Dante"). Elsewhere she write of actual encounters with Nabokov fils, Dmitri (who has generously played along with the entire endeavor, allowing also extensive Nabokovian quotes as well as providing a blurb ...).
       Describing Nabokov's art, as well as her own, Azam Zanganeh writes:

     It's as much a matter of remembering and connecting, as it is of inventing, at times. Thus from composites I recomposed.
       The Enchanter is a tribute to Nabokov's art. It can serve as an introduction to his life (she offers a decent biographical overview) and his work (though focused on only a trio of works, it does give some insight into much of his œuvre), but Azam Zanganeh wants also to give a sense of the sheer creative pleasure of his life and work.
       Nabokov was completely dedicated to his art -- and his specific conception of art -- and Azam Zanganeh tries to convey this.
       She notes:
     Great literature, in his eyes, was a feat of language, not ideas. And even then, he did not believe in a grand literary art, only in starkly original artists (such as Shakespeare, Pushkin, Proust, Kafka, Joyce, and himself). So that, in the end, a writer's true biography should amount to no more than the story of his style.
       And it is this, too, that she tries to emulate, trying to lose herself in Nabokovian language -- which leads to phrasings such as:
     Time's pale fire now wheeled the weight of the world, shedding light on the discreteness of things, cracking open the dormer window of consciousness.
       Or she imagines taking up butterfly-chasing:
     Overcome by a sense of rapture, keen to partake in the bounteous delights of nature, I shed my bag and shoes and socks et altri, racing barefoot, skipping among purple heliotropes and burnberry bushes, net ablaze, light lozenges of shade gliding over my naked back.
       This can be hard to pull off, but for the most part Azam Zanganeh keeps things playful enough that it doesn't feel to forced or awkward; her decent ear and sense for language help, too.
       The Enchanter is a playful, varied book, the different approaches -- and Azam Zanganeh's own presence in the text, as reader and writer -- making for a quite winning read. It is a shame Azam Zanganeh isn't more prominent in it -- or that she is occasionally so coy (so, for example, in describing her own family's exile -- with the country left behind, though obviously Iran, never even mentioned); she never entirely manages to strike the Nabokovian balance for her role in the text, and one or two of the experimental approaches can seem a bit desperate (as in: well let me try it this way ...).
       Still, this is a rich and varied text, and an interesting look at Nabokov and his work. Those familiar with Boyd's biography might find some of the biographical material overly familiar (i.e. Azam Zanganeh doesn't offer enough that's new, or spin enough out of what's familiar), but overall it's quite a nice tribute, and especially in its use of language (and style) feels agreeably fresh.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 April 2011

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The Enchanter: Reviews: Vladimir Nabokov: Lila Azam Zanganeh: Books by Vladimir Nabokov under review: Other books by Lila Azam Zanganeh under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Lila Azam Zanganeh was born in Paris in 1976.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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