Dmitri Nabokov, the only child of acclaimed novelist Vladimir Nabokov who helped protect and translate his father’s work while pursuing careers as an opera singer and race car driver, has died. He was 77.
The younger Nabokov died Wednesday at a hospital in Vevey, Switzerland, after a long illness, said literary agent Andrew Wylie.
Dmitri spent much of his life trying to carve a life away from the shadow of his father, considered one of the premier writers of the 20th century for such books as “Lolita” and “Pale Fire.”
The tall, broad-shouldered son bore a striking resemblance to his father. Harvard-educated Dmitri was a playboy who began to race cars competitively in 1962 and maintained an active professional operatic career as a basso profundo until 1982.
But Dmitri always returned to protecting his father’s literary legacy, translating and editing his father’s plays, poems, stories, the novella “The Enchanter” and “Selected Letters.”
“My father is gradually marching -- with his two favorite writers, Pushkin and Joyce -- arm in arm into the pantheon to join the greatest of all, Shakespeare, who is waiting for them,” Dmitri told the Associated Press in 2009. “I like to think that I did my bit to keep things on track.”
After the success of “Lolita,” he translated his father’s “Invitation to a Beheading” from Russian and wrote the memoir “On Revisiting Father’s Room” after his father died in 1977. After his mother died in 1991, he sold the remainder of his father’s archive to the New York Public Library and attended conferences dedicated to him.
In 2009, Dmitri decided to publish his father’s final, fragmentary novel, “The Origin of Laura,” written on index cards during the last years of Vladimir’s life. It was a controversial act that his son said went against the wishes of his father, who had asked that “Laura” be burned.
Dmitri Nabokov was born in 1934 in Berlin and as a child lived “a real drifter’s life,” he later said. He was living in Paris with his father and Jewish mother, Vera, when the family fled the Nazis in 1940 and came to the U.S.
Vladimir borrowed money to send his son to Harvard in 1951. He reported that Dmitri’s interests there were “mountaineering, girls, music, track, tennis and his studies, in that order.”
After graduating from college, Dmitri served in the U.S. Army, resuming his voice studies after his discharge in 1957.
The elder Nabokov became an American citizen in 1945 but returned to Europe in 1961, settling in Switzerland to be near his son, who was living in Italy.
Dmitri never married but believed he would have made a great father, much like his own was, he told The Times in 1989: “It was a very rich relationship. We were very good friends.... He made my life infinitely richer, more entertaining, and equipped me for creative endeavors of my own.”