The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness by Lila Azam Zanganeh; Norton, 228 pages ($23.95). This is the first book by the Iranian-born writer and longtime resident of Paris who has, among other things, taught at Harvard. It isn't exactly presented as a debut likely to pass through the literary gates unnoticed. One of its blurbs is by a Nobel Prize winner (Orhan Pamuk), another is by the international writer whose name is synonymous with the threatening divide between a Western literature of delight and Middle Eastern fundamentalist intolerance (Salman Rushdie).
Zanganeh's fellow Iranian Azar Nafisi -- author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" -- is there to call Zanganeh's book "a work of genuine originality, intimate and alluring." Rounding out an altogether neon-lit back cover flap is no less than Dimitri Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov's venerable son, who celebrates Zanganeh's "elegant, personal, highly accessible style," which, he's delighted to note, doesn't mimic that of his late father.
Well, OK but the case for the prosecution would have to cede that Zanganeh's admittedly original study of her obsession with "VN" is frequently so clotted with stylistic excesses, allusions to Lewis Carroll and willful, unannounced intrusions of fantasy on fact that Zanganeh's joyous attempt to go for Baroque is a bit like watching someone flying a kite around a pond full of quicksand. A good part of the fascination is wondering when all that merriment will turn, through one errant foot-fall, into entrapment in muck.
It does happen periodically, to be sure, which can leave VN's "creative readers" annoyed and worse. But what Zanganeh is telling us here is not easy to tell -- about Vladimir Nabkov and his truly magical and luminescent work so that even Zanganeh's emulation of his butterfly hunting shouldn't deter anyone who cherishes one of the 20th century's greatest masters -- and a man who, on his own, might well have been, at the very least, highly amused by the author's chutzpah.
-- Jeff Simon