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The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov: A Novel

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014


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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Very Real Unreal Biography/Novel

    Paul Russell has a very special gift. He is able to enter the timeframe of his characters' lives in such a way that he makes the reader able to feel like a traveling companion rather than an observer from a distance. THE UNREAL LIFE OF SERGEY NABOKOV is rich in the use of language that sets a period of history, using colloquialisms and other-country means of addressing friends, family, and loved ones, and describing an historical tenor that all that happens to seems so very natural, so unstilted, so refreshingly informative. The more famous of the two Nabokov Brothers -Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899 - 1977), writer of 'Lolita' and many other brilliant and controversial novels and poems, even making it to the cover of TIME magazine - far outshone his younger brother Sergey. Of note, at the age of 16, Vladimir discovered the diary of his enigmatic 15-year-old brother lying open on a desk. The professions of gay love he found within its pages scandalized Vladimir. He promptly shared the contents with his tutor, who in turn handed it over to the Nabokovs' politician father. The diary contains details of what Vladimir called "a retroactive clarification of certain oddities of behavior on [Sergey's] part"; here Nabokov's homophobia is caught "on the edge of the remark." This bit of filial relationship in part explains the course of this fascinating novel. The brothers were at the extremes of sexual preference. While the erudite Vladimir moved from the family of wealth and opulence in Tsarist Russia into the world of multilingual literature, setting off first to England (where he and his brother studied at Cambridge) and then for America after escaping the Bolshevik Revolution, Sergey fled to Berlin where he embraced the gay life, coming to grips with his occult feelings and finding fleeting love. But that is not the sole course of the book or of Sergey's life. Russell's novel is framed as a series of diary entries, an entirely appropriate manner of relating this story as both brother's were inveterate diarists. 'While verging on cliché, this framing device allows for an intriguing parallel narrative: Sergey, while working for the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda, attempts to dodge the Gestapo after uttering a subversive statement against the Reich. These passages are intercut with scenes from his past: a privileged Russian childhood, study at Cambridge, an opium-soaked friendship with Jean Cocteau, the world of Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, and Gertrude Stein's salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus.' While Sergey's story is somewhat less well defined than his brother's, Russell does manage to use a style of language that is endearing and allows the read to feel the presence of this stammering, vulnerable, needy, yet proud young Russian as he becomes intimate with the intelligentsia of the day. He is part of the lives of Diaghilev, Misia Sert, Jean Cocteau, Nijinsky by default, Picasso, Chanel, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein among many others. But for all the seeming braggadocio of our narrator we are left with a young gay man searching for love and for place in a world basically unkind and unaccepting. This is a love story by a brilliant writer: Paul Russell is a professor at Vassar and has written several brilliant books including 'The Coming Storm', 'War Against the Animals', 'The Gay 100: the most influential gay men, lesbians, GLBTs', etc.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2014

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    Posted May 10, 2013

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    Posted January 2, 2012

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