Bend Sinister – a term of heraldry, denoting the strip to the left of the coat of arms. The title of the novel is connected with the attitude of V. Nabokov to the “ominously leftward world,” that is, the spread of communist and socialist ideas. The events of the novel take place in a conditional country, Sinisterbad, where a dictatorial, police regime was just established as a result of the revolution. His ideology is based on the theory of equilism. They speak here in a language that is, in the words of V. Nabokov, “a mongrel-like cross between Slavic languages and Germanic languages”. For example, gospitaisha kruvka – a hospital bed; stoy, chort – stand, that you; rada barbara – beautiful woman in full bloom; domusta barbam kapusta – the more terrible the woman, the more so. Etc.
The beginning of November. The day is slipping towards evening. A huge tired man of about forty looks at the oblong puddle from the hospital window, which reflects the branches of trees, sky, light. This is the celebrity of Sinisterbad, the philosopher Adam Krug. He had just learned that his wife Olga had died, unable to withstand the operation on the kidney. Now he needs to get to the South Coast – there is his house and there he is waiting for his eight-year-old son. At the bridge, equilist soldiers who are illiterate can not read the Circle pass. In the end, the pass to them read aloud the same as the Circle, a belated passer-by. However, sentries on the other side do not allow the Circle – the signature of the first post is required. The pass is signed by the same passer-by, and together with Krug they cross the bridge. But there’s nobody to check the pass-the soldiers have left,
At the beginning of the eleventh, the Circle finally gets home. His main concern now is that little David does not learn about the death of his mother. Troubles about funerals The circle on the phone charges its fellow-philologist, translator Shakespeare to Ember. The phone call awakens Ember’s memories of Olga – I think he was even slightly in love with her. At the same time – about eleven – Professor Circle is summoned to the University.
On the car behind him, the emblem of the new government is a sprawling spider on a red flag. The president of the University begins his speech in Gogol’s words: “I invited you, gentlemen, to inform you about some unpleasant circumstances…” To the University, its teachers must sign a letter certifying their loyalty to the Ruler Paducah. To hand out the same letter should Circle, because Paduk – his classmate. The philosopher, however, calmly reports that only one memory links him to Jaba: in the “happy school years” the mischievous Circle, the first student, humiliated Paduk, sitting on his face.
Teachers – who with the greatest, who with less willingness – the letter sign. The circle is limited by the fact that it places a missing comma in its copy. He does not give in to any persuasion. Before the reader passes the dream of Adam Krug, associated with the events of his school life. We learn that Krug’s father “was a biologist with a solid reputation,” and Paduk’s father is “a small inventor, a vegetarian, a theosophist.” The circle played football, but Paduk did not. Apparently, this “full, pale, pimply teenager,” with eternally sticky hands and thick fingers, belonged to those unhappy creatures who are willingly made scapegoats.
But Paduk waited for his finest hour. When the development of “social and political consciousness” among schoolchildren became fashionable, he established the Party of the Middle Man. There were also colleagues. The party’s program was based on the theory of equilism, invented in the old age by the revolutionary democrat, Scott. According to this theory, everyone could become clever, beautiful, talented by redistributing the abilities given to man by nature. Circles such things are not interested at all.
… The circle is tormented over the graduation work and suddenly sees in the opening of the school board his wife: Olga removes jewelry, and along with them and head, chest, hand… In a fit of faintness, the Circle wakes up.
He is at the dacha in the Lakes, with his friend Maximov. The next morning after the meeting at the University of the Circle, in order to avoid unnecessary conversations, he took his son out of town. Telling Maximov his dream, the Circle recalls another detail: once Jaba-Paduk furtively kissed his hand… It was disgusting. A kind person, a former merchant Maximov, persuades the Circle to flee the country, before it’s too late. But the philosopher hesitates.
Returning after walking with David, the Circle learns that the Maksimov family was taken away in a police car. More and more often there are suspicious people near the Circle – a couple kissing on the doorstep of the house, an operetta-dressed peasant, organ-grinders who can... not play on a hurdy-gurdy – it’s clear that the philosopher is being shadowed. Returning to the city, the Circle goes to visit the embittered Ember. Both of them avoid mentioning Olga and therefore talk about Shakespeare – in particular, about how the regime adapted Hamlet for itself, the conversation is interrupted by a doorbell – agents Gustav and the von Bachofen came for Amber.
We see the Circle, hard walking through the streets of Paducograd. The November sun is shining. Everything is quiet. And only someone’s blood-stained cuff on the pavement, yes galoshes without a pair, and a trace of a bullet in the wall remind of what is happening here. On the same day, the mathematics of Hedron, a friend and a colleague of the Circle are arrested.
The circle is lonely, driven and exhausted by longing for Olga. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, there is a young Marietta with a suitcase – she takes the place of Nanny David, who disappeared after the arrest of Hedron.
On the birthday of the Circle, the Head of State expresses a desire to “give him personal conversation.” On a huge black limousine, the philosopher is delivered to a once luxurious and now somehow ridiculously arranged palace. The circle hangs with Paduk in his usual manner, and invisible spies advise him to realize what gulf lies between him and the Ruler. Paduk proposes the Circle to take the place of the President of the University and declare “with all possible scholarship and enthusiasm” about his support for the regime.
Refusing this proposal, the Circle counts on the fact that it will someday simply be left alone. He lives as if in a fog, through which only the stamps of official propaganda break through. On the seventeenth of January a letter comes from “the antiquarian Peter Kvist”, which hints at the possibility of escape. Having met with the Circle, the dummy antiquarian finally finds out that the most valuable thing for the philosopher is his son. The unsuspecting Circle leaves the shop of the antiquarian with the hope to escape from the Equilist hell.
On the night of the twenty-first, the ability to think and write returns to him. The circle is even ready to respond to the calls of Marietta, who has long seduced him. But as soon as their co-operation should occur, a deafening roar is heard – behind Adam Circle came. In prison, he is demanded of all the same – to support Paduc publicly. In fear for his son, the Circle promises to do anything: sign, swear – let him only give him to the boy. They bring some frightened boy, but this is the son of a medic, Martin Krug. The perpetrators are quickly shot.
It turns out that David was sent to a sanatorium for abnormal children. There, in front of the Circle, the fresh shots of the sanatorium are scrolling: the nurse walks David down to the marble staircase, and the boy descends into the garden… “What a joy for the baby,” the inscription declared, “to walk alone in the middle of the night.” The tape ends, and the Circle understands what happened: in this institution, as in the whole country, the spirit of collectivism is encouraged, so a flock of adult patients is let on the child as a game… Circles lead to the murdered son – the boy’s head is golden-purple turban, the face is skillfully painted and powdered. “Your child will receive the most magnificent funeral,” – they console their father. The circle is even offered to personally kill the guilty. In response, the philosopher rudely sends them to…
Prison cell. The circle plunges into darkness and tenderness, where they again together – Olga, David and he. In the middle of the night something shakes him out of sleep. But before all the torment and heaviness will crush the poor Circle, the same demiurge-director will intervene in the course of events: driven by a feeling of compassion, he will make his hero insane. In the morning, people familiar to him are brought to the Circle in the central courtyard of the prison – they are sentenced to death, and only the consent of the Circle can cooperate to save the regime.
Nobody understands that the pride of Sinisterbad – the philosopher Adam Krug went mad and the questions of life and death lost his usual meaning for him.
It seems to the circle that he is a former hooligan schoolboy. He rushes to Toad-Paduk to properly teach him a lesson. The first bullet tears the Ear off the Circle. The second – for ever stops his earthly existence. “And yet the last run in his life was full of happiness, and he got evidence that death is just a matter of style.”
And the glint of that special, “oblong puddle”, which on the day of Olga’s death, the Circle “managed to perceive through the layers of her own life becomes discernible.”