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Unfinished Nabokov novel published in Russia

Vladimir Nabokov's final, fragmentary novel went on sale Monday in two versions in Russia, more than 30 years after he asked that it be burned upon his death.

The emigre Russian wrote "The Original of Laura" on index cards in 1975-77, the last years of his life.

He asked his wife and son to burn the cards after his death, said Tatiana Ponomaryova, director of the Nabokov museum in St. Petersburg, where the versions were presented Monday.

One contains reproductions of the English-language index cards. The other, in Russian, puts the words into conventional text form.

The original handwritten manuscript on index cards will be up for auction on Dec. 4 at Christie's. The auction house estimates the value at $400,000 to $600,000. No significant manuscript by Nabokov has ever appeared at auction, according to "American Book Prices Current," an annual record of books, manuscripts, autographs, maps and broadsides sold at auctions.

A tough decisionHis son Dmitri, who decided to publish the work, wrote in the preface that his father wouldn't have been against the move. The fragmentary book may be frustrating to many readers accustomed to the polished writing of Nabokov, whose novels including "Lolita" and "Pale Fire" are regarded as some of the best English prose ever written. But scholars at the presentation found it intriguing. "Now we have a unique opportunity to play Nabokov as Rubik's cube. That is we can try to decide ourselves how the plot should go," said Valery Timofeyev, a Nabokov expert at St. Petersburg State University. "In fact, we now have a sample of the author's laboratory, where all the stages of the writer's work can be seen. It is great material for teaching philology students, too." "Today, when every word of Nabokov is worth its weight in gold, this book is like finding a treasure," Russian writer Sergei Kibalnik said. The book was published in the West in early November and reviewers took note of its post-modernist conceits, in which the narrator tells of an affair with a young woman that later became the basis for a best-seller purportedly written by him. "It's not a novel. It's a plot of a plot. But it is very interesting from that point of view," said Boris Averin, a Russian literature historian at St. Petersburg State University.

Right or wrong?The decision by Dmitri Nabokov to publish the book against his father's wishes was controversial in literary circles.

"However, it's understandable that it was very hard for Dmitri to burn something written by the hand of his father. And I'm personally very glad that Nabokov's son still decided to publish his father's work. He did it now also because of his elderly age of 75," Ponomaryova said. Nabokov and his family fled the chaos of the Russian Civil War and he lived in Europe until moving to the U.S. in 1940. He became an American citizen in 1945, but returned to Europe in 1961 after the great success of "Lolita," settling in Montreux, Switzerland, where he died.