Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 103 in 1999.
September 9, 1999
Lo's Diary, a novel by the Italian writer, Pia Pera, was translated into English by Ann Goldstein and and its forthcoming publication in the United States and the United Kingdom was announced. It had previously been published in Italy, Germany,Spain and other countries, without incident.
This time, the fall of 1998, the situation changed. Dmitri Nabokov, the son of Vladimir Nabokov and executor of his estate, instituted a suit in the Federal Court in New York askng that publication of Lo's Diary be enjoined because it enfringed the copyright granted to Mr. Nabokov's book, Lolita. At that point the American publisher to be, Ferrar Strauss and Giroux, along with the Italian publisher and the author herself, decided to not contest the matter and were thereby foregoing publication of Lo's Diary.
I learned about all of the above through articles in the New York Times. I asked for and was given a copy of the translation and I read it. I liked it very much, as obviously had the American and English editors before me. It seemed to me that a grave injustice would be committed on the reading public, let alone the author, if publication of Lo's Diary did not take place. Attorney Martin Garbus and I decided to make a serious attempt to remedy the situation. Mr. Garbus, as I well knew personally, was excellently equiped to deal with the multiple aspects of the problem, including copyright law, and free speech implications, among others. I, by now, as the would be publisher, sought out a practical route to get Lo's Diary to the book stores. Pia Pera's book is most certainly closely related to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Without it her book would not have come into being. It is a new vision of a situation which had become imbedded in our culture - what might be called the Lolita syndrome. This story of mythical proportions , so beautifully encapsalated through Vladimir Nabokov's genius, has quickly achieved the kind of status usually taking generations to achieve , becoming a part of our universal consciousness practically demanding new interpretations by new artists, and one of them, a consummate one at that, is Pia Pera. She both illuminates the point of view of Lolita for her generation and gender and gives at the same time a new validity to another great modern legend, Rashomon. My urgent problem in all of this was to me find the pathway through the legal minefields which would lead to publication of Lo's Diary in English doing the least damage possible to the properly vested interests of the original author and simultaneouly honoring those of the new artist. Apparently there is no available " take out" legal solution available to us for this dilemma, so we had to devise a kind of tirage on the spot. I think that we succeeded in doing so. Perhaps the best evidence to that is that neither Dimitri Nabokov nor Pia Pera are satisfied with the results. For my part, I say that by its very nature, tirage is not meant to achieve perfect results, but it does keep the show on the road. In time I hope that the principals involved will come to understand and appreciate that fact.