The City of Königsberg is part of history now, its fate largely forgotten if not outright ignored. Yet today, and every year since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, many German expellees originally from that ill-fated city and surrounding area undertake a trek back to their former homeland to look for that which was forever taken from them: their place of birth and the communities they grew up in. These are the things by which most of us are able to define ourselves, ., "where are you from?". Often referred to as “homesickness-tourism”, it finds now mostly aging people or their descendants looking for their cultural and ancestral roots so cruelly ripped out from underneath them after hundreds of years of settlement in East Prussia. Here, the worst kind nostalgia reigns: to find yourself in a present with little or no continuity with the past to latch on to, and putting into question the very memories you have of it and yourself being nurtured by it.
This essay argues that Chekhov’s novel, The Shooting Party (Drama na Okhote) (1884–1885), featuring a protagonist who views murder in aesthetic terms, is a heretofore overlooked source for Nabokov’s exploration of the relationship between art and crime in his novel Despair as well as in his later works. I propose that Chekhov’s formal experimentation in The Shooting Party spurred Nabokov’s inquiry into the links between art and iniquity; in Despair Nabokov directly addresses the interplay between artistic creation and criminality. I sketch the ethical concerns raised by the popular crime fiction that inspired Chekhov’s Shooting Party . I then address the sensationalistic plot, formal inventiveness, and metaliterary aspects of Chekhov’s novel. Finally, I note the thematic and stylistic parallels between Nabokov’s Despair and Chekhov’s novel; in so doing, I seek to shed new light on the juxtaposition of aesthetic and ethical categories that is one of the most distinctive features of Nabokov’s fiction. In both The Shooting Party and Despair , a murderer constructs a written narrative about the murder that he committed, seeking profit and glory by turning crime into art; the narrative then falls into the hands of a reader who alters the manuscript and thereby enacts a power struggle with the criminal to establish his own ethical and aesthetic superiority. The Shooting Party and Despair both depict an artist-murderer who demotes his human victim to the status of an artistic medium—text or image— that he is entitled to manipulate at will; Chekhov and Nabokov then strive to construct an inquisitive reader-detective whose empathy is diametrically opposed to the dehumanizing mindset of their protagonists.
The communist German Democratic Republic was established in the historic "Mitteldeutschland" ( Middle Germany ). Former German territories east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, mainly the Prussian provinces of Pomerania , East Prussia , West Prussia , Upper Silesia , Lower Silesia , the eastern Neumark of Brandenburg , and a small piece of Saxony were thus detached from Germany. To compensate Poland for the USSR's annexation of its eastern provinces, the Allies provisionally established Poland's post-war western border at the Oder–Neisse line at the Yalta Conference (1945). As a result, most of Germany's central territories became the Sowjetische Besatzungszone (SBZ, Soviet Occupation Zone). All other lands east of the Oder–Neisse line were put under Polish administration, with the exception of historic northern East Prussia , which went to the USSR.