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Vladimir Nabokov first wrote "The Return of Chorb" in Russian. It was published in a collection of the same name (except in Russian, but you knew that) in 1929. The story follows a young man who has returned from his honeymoon, without his wife, because she died on the trip. He tries to "re-create" her by reliving the past, which means this story is par for the Nabokovian course. (He wrote a lot about reincarnating dead lovers through memory.) "Chorb" was translated into English by this guy Gleb Struve, except his translation didn’t satisfy Nabokov. So the author wrote his own English version in the 1970s, around the time he was translating many of his other Russian tales. "Chorb" was then published, in English, in a collection called Details of a Sunset and Other Stories in 1976. Nabokov, along with the help of his son Dmitri, published four volumes of stories in the 1970s, and took special care in arranging them in certain ways. That is, he paid attention to stylistic and thematic congruencies between the tales. If you like "Chorb," you should read the rest of the Details of a Sunset collection. We guarantee satisfaction.
Sure, "The Return of Chorb" covers the story of a man trying to reincarnate (sort of) his dead wife, and it takes place in Germany, and there’s a prostitute involved, and a dash of Greek mythology – but you know what this is about. Take out the "Tales from the Crypt" atmosphere, make everyone ten years younger, stick it in America, and you’ve got…a bad, bad break-up. How do you deal with the idea that you’re never again going to see the person that you once loved? You can fume about it, you can cry, you can throw out all their stuff including that mix CD you got for Valentine’s Day and listened to about 267 times on repeat, but you can’t just forget about them and move on. That’s not really an option.
Instead, you do what Chorb does. You re-live every moment that you were ever together. Every place you go where you were once together is a minefield of memories. If things are bad enough, you might even describe those old haunts as, well, haunted. As a very idealistic thirty-something woman on Sex and the City once said, it takes one half of the time you’re with a person to get over them. Now throw in a creepy séance and you’re good to go.
The Original Collection
Which you could all go out and buy immediately, and now you have no excuse because you know what it looks like.
A photo of the author.
The New York Times Book Review of Details of a Sunset and Other Stories, the 1976 English collection which included "Chorb."
This is a great review to help you think about the way Nabokov arranged his short stories in four English publications in the seventies. He did so carefully and with consideration to style and thematic consistency. Which is nice if you’re into stuff like that.
(Most of) "The Return of Chorb" Online
It’s the first three-quarters of the text.
An interesting look at the process of translation for Nabokov in composing an English version of "The Return of Chorb."