The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov [NOOK Book]

Overview

A startling and revelatory examination of Nabokov’s life and works—notably Pale Fire and Lolita—bringing new insight into one of the twentieth century’s most enigmatic authors
Novelist Vladimir Nabokov witnessed the horrors of his century, escaping Revolutionary Russia then Germany under Hitler, and fleeing France with his Jewish wife and son just weeks before Paris fell to the Nazis. He repeatedly faced accusations of turning a blind eye to human suffering ...
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The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov

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Overview

A startling and revelatory examination of Nabokov’s life and works—notably Pale Fire and Lolita—bringing new insight into one of the twentieth century’s most enigmatic authors
Novelist Vladimir Nabokov witnessed the horrors of his century, escaping Revolutionary Russia then Germany under Hitler, and fleeing France with his Jewish wife and son just weeks before Paris fell to the Nazis. He repeatedly faced accusations of turning a blind eye to human suffering to write artful tales of depravity. But does one of the greatest writers in the English language really deserve the label of amoral aesthete bestowed on him by so many critics?
Using information from newly-declassified intelligence files and recovered military history, journalist Andrea Pitzer argues that far from being a proponent of art for art’s sake, Vladimir Nabokov managed to hide disturbing history in his fiction—history that has gone unnoticed for decades. Nabokov emerges as a kind of documentary conjurer, spending the most productive decades of his career recording a saga of forgotten concentration camps and searing bigotry, from World War I to the Gulag and the Holocaust. Lolita surrenders Humbert Humbert’s secret identity, and reveals a Nabokov appalled by American anti-Semitism. The lunatic narrator of Pale Fire recalls Russian tragedies that once haunted the world. From Tsarist courts to Nazi film sets, from CIA front organizations to wartime Casablanca, the story of Nabokov’s family is the story of his century—and both are woven inextricably into his fiction.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Journalist Pitzer (founder, Nieman Storyboard) tackles the life and work of Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977) from a critical and refreshing viewpoint different from previous biographies. She aims to connect the turbulent events in the author's life to the events in his fiction. A writer known for his appreciation of aesthetics over historically and politically themed plotlines, Nabokov lived through the Russian Revolution and the Holocaust (his brother Sergey died in a concentration camp). Pitzer shows how Nabokov's work relates these events in a way hidden from the reader. Drawing on the novels of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, she compares the authors' lives and literary styles to illustrate the differences in how their fiction represents history; for example, Humbert's background in Lolita reflects such events as the Armenian genocide and the German concentration camps. Also, the speculation that he is Jewish perhaps represents the figure of the Wandering Jew. VERDICT Pitzer accomplishes her goal of revealing the indirect appearance of Nabokov's biography in his most celebrated fiction. Highly recommended for all Nabokov fans who as a result of reading this will probably wish to reread the works analyzed here.—Morris Hounion, NYC Technical Coll. Lib., CUNY, Brooklyn
Publishers Weekly
Despite the title, this literary study–cum–biography contains little in the way of salacious details from Nabokov’s personal life. Instead, journalist Pitzer argues that Nabokov’s work, and his eventful but not notably scandalous life, intersected with very public history in ways often missed or misunderstood. Many know Nabokov as a Russian aristocrat and refugee from the Bolsheviks, but Pitzer expands on these facts to describe how his liberal reformer father, V.D., fell afoul of both Lenin and czarist supporters. Though the experience made Nabokov staunchly anticommunist, Pitzer’s use of Alexander Solzhenistyn in counterpoint throughout illustrates how much more subtly her subject addressed political violence. The Holocaust also casts a shadow over this account of his life, from his gay, outspokenly anti-Nazi brother Sergei’s death in a concentration camp, to his beloved wife Vera’s defiant assertions of her Jewish identity against postwar America’s more genteel but still pervasive anti-Semitism. Pitzer finds this latter theme running through Lolita in unspoken parallel to Humbert Humbert’s more obvious obsessions, while Zembla, the lunatic narrator’s apparently illusory birthplace in Pale Fire, turns out to correspond to the Arctic archipelago Nova Zembla, a mysterious last stop for Soviet political prisoners. Though Pitzer’s stylized prose is burdened by a vain hope of equaling Nabokov’s mastery, her fresh perspective will likely send readers back to his books. 16 pages b&w photos. Agent: Katherine Boyle, Veritas Agency. (Mar.)
Michael Maar
“Certainly the most remarkable and insightful book on Vladimir Nabokov in many years. It is by taking big history with its small devastating details into account that Pitzer brilliantly manages to unlock a secret door in the oeuvre of the often misunderstood Mandarin. A must for even non-Nabokovians.”
Christopher Goffard
“Andrea Pitzer has given students of Nabokov a startling gift: a fundamentally new way to read one of the English language’s preeminent prose wizards.
She demolishes the false distinction between the literary gamesman we know Nabokov to be and the historically engaged writer he supposedly isn’t. His famous characters’ psychoses, it turns out, are bound up inextricably with those of the horror-drenched century through which their creator navigated. In a feat of fascinating literary detective work, Pitzer supplies a long-overdue map of these connections.”
Steven Belletto
“The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov shows how the specters of history and politics shaped one of the twentieth century’s most important writers. In clear and bracing prose, Pitzer demonstrates the complex engagement with politics in the deepest recesses of Nabokov’s most famous novels, including Lolita and Pale Fire. This book manages the impressive feat of being at once a wide-ranging introduction to Nabokov’s life and work as well as a game-changer for those readers who thought they knew his writing cold.”
The Boston Globe
“Pitzer, like Nabokov, is a beautiful writer and gimlet-eyed observer,
especially about her subject; even as an impoverished refugee living in
America, she writes, “Nabokov was never shy about his sense of self.”
Her attention to history’s moral components is refreshingly blunt: “The dead are not nameless,” she writes of the writers and others killed in
Stalin’s Great Purge of the late 1930s. Inviting us to reconsider
Nabokov, Pitzer also introduces herself as a writer worthy of attention.”
The New Republic - Alexander Nazaryan
“Pitzer shows history—if not politics—was never far from Nabokov’s considerations. Nabokov was, for example, an ardent enemy of anti-Semitism and a supporter of civil rights in the American South. Pitzer depicts him as fully engaged with the concerns of the world—though he was far too courtly, too genteel, to shout his convictions from the rooftops.”
Alexander Nazaryan - The New Republic
“Pitzer shows history—if not politics—was never far from Nabokov’s considerations. Nabokov was, for example, an ardent enemy of anti-Semitism and a supporter of civil rights in the American South. Pitzer depicts him as fully engaged with the concerns of the world—though he was far too courtly, too genteel, to shout his convictions from the rooftops.”
STARRED REVIEW Booklist
“ In a personal note Nabokov sent to Solzhenitsyn in 1974, on the day the dissident writer was expelled from the Soviet Union, Pitzer recognizes a telling connection between two writers who shared more than most critics have realized. For beneath the consummate artifice of Nabokov’s tales, Pitzer discerns a hidden historical vision aligned to a surprising degree with Solzhenitsyn’s. Largely undetected, the same nightmarish world of communist brutality that Solzhenitsyn exposed in his Gulag Archipelago lies embedded in the recesses of Nabokov’s major works, including Bend Sinister, Pnin, and Ada. The ugly historical effects of the Soviet Union’s open-air nuclear testing lie behind otherwise puzzling features of Pale Fire. Perhaps most surprising is the presence in the depths of Nabokov’s (in)famous Lolita of the horrific history of the Nazi death camps. Through her historically grounded readings of his fiction, Pitzer discredits the widespread but misleading perception of Nabokov as an art-for-art’s-sake writer indifferent to the moral and political exigencies of his day. But as readers explore his devious strategies for veiling sobering historical realities in aesthetic illusions, they slowly become aware of the interpretive responsibilities that Nabokov places on the reader. A penetrating analysis certain to compel a major reassessment of the Nabokov canon.”
The Daily Beast
“Fifty years is long time to wait for a decryption device but one has been furnished by Andrea Pitzer, the author ofThe Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov,
not just one of the most beguiling literary biographies to come out in years but also a first-rate addition to the shelf of Nabokov studies.”
The New Criterion
“The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov provides a valuable antidote to decades of emphasis on the puzzling preciosity of the writer who seemed to be the Wallace Stevens of modern fiction. The magician buried his past in his art and Pitzer has exhumed it. She reads the novels for their cryptic hints, oblique allusions and hidden political themes, their cunning fusion of history and art, and reveals new dimensions of meaning.”
Kirkus Reviews
Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977) always claimed that art and politics don't mix, but this new biography suggests his own art tells a different story. In her first book, Pitzer focuses on one of the lingering mysteries about Nabokov: How could anyone so acquainted with the horrors of the Soviet Union (which killed his father) and Nazi Germany (which killed his brother) be so detached from the real world in his work? Born in the twilight of Czarist Russia, Nabokov fled the post-revolutionary landscape and spent years making his name among the émigré writers in Berlin, where he would also be forced to flee, with his Jewish wife and their young son, as Hitler came into power. Arriving in America and landing a teaching position, Nabokov focused on his writing and, as some saw it, forgot the past; he never spoke out against injustice, signed petitions, made speeches or even voted. While Solzhenitsyn was suffering in a Soviet prison camp, Nabokov was crafting an intricate novel about a middle-aged pervert's passion for a 12-year-old "nymphet." Yet, according to Pitzer, in his own imaginative way, Nabokov was bearing witness to the horrors he knew. Drawing on new biographical material and her sharp critical senses, Pitzer reveals the tightly woven subtext of the novels, always keen to shine a light where the deception is not obvious. She suggests that Humbert Humbert, Lolita's predatory narrator, is a Jew who has been destroyed by what he experienced during the war years. Hermann in Despair, the title character of Pnin and Kinbote in Pale Fire--all bear similar psychic wounds, victims of history who sometimes become villains. Though no substitute for Brian Boyd's definitive two-volume biography, this is a brilliant examination that adds to the understanding of an inspiring and enigmatic life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781453271674
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 663,322
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Andrea Pitzer founded Nieman Storyboard, the narrative nonfiction site of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Her work has also appeared in print in USA Today’s Life section and online at HiLowbrow.com. She presented on Nabokov’s fiction at the 2009 MLA Conference, is a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and lives in northern Virginia.
  
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Read an Excerpt

The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov


By Andrea Pitzer

PEGASUS BOOKS

Copyright © 2013 Andrea Pitzer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-7167-4



CHAPTER 1

Waiting for Solzhenitsyn

* * *


1

On October 6, 1974, Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Véra sat in a private dining room of the Montreux Palace Hotel in Switzerland, waiting for Alexander Solzhenitsyn to join them for lunch. The two men had never met.

By then the Nabokovs had been living in the opulent Palace Hotel, tucked along the eastern shore of Lake Geneva, for thirteen years. During those years, literary pilgrims had traveled to Montreux in hopes of an audience with the master. When they were lucky enough to meet with him, Nabokov had fielded their questions and returned biting, playful answers. They had sipped coffee, tea, or grappa at lunchtime with one of the most celebrated wordsmiths in the world, and plumbed his cryptic statements for meaning. Pursuing him as he pursued butterflies, they had climbed the Alpine slopes that vaulted up behind the hotel.

The seventy-five-year-old Nabokov saw himself as Russian and American, yet lived in rented rooms in neither country, continuing to work on new books and translations at an exhausting pace that Lolita 's breakthrough more than a decade before had rendered financially unnecessary. He had grown accustomed to being courted, and to delighting his guests. But a visit from Solzhenitsyn was something different.


The morning of October 6 revealed itself early on as a rainy day, but in truth, the weather on the drive south from Zurich may not have mattered to Solzhenitsyn. Only eight months earlier, Solzhenitsyn had been sitting in a cell at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, charged with treason against the Soviet Union. The deportation that followed his arrest had been bitter, but there were, he knew, more permanent penalties than exile.

Solzhenitsyn had dreamed of face-to-face confrontation with Soviet leaders, believing that pressure at the right moment by the right person might topple the whole system of repression, or at least begin its destruction. Instead, expulsion had delivered him into Frankfurt, Germany, and an uncharted life. And so he was not in prison, not shouting his defiance to the Politburo or meeting privately with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. After a spring and summer spent making his way in the new world, he instead found himself cruising the Swiss countryside with his wife Natalia, circling Lake Geneva, traveling Montreux's elegant Grand Rue on his way to see one of the most celebrated authors in the world—a man he himself had nominated for the Nobel Prize just two years earlier. Yet Solzhenitsyn was nervous.


At that moment, it would have been hard to find two bigger literary superstars than the man who had written The Gulag Archipelago and the author of Lolita. They were both Russian, but the nineteen years between their births had destined them to grow up in separate universes. Nabokov had come of age in the last days of the Tsar and Empire, ceding Russia to the Bolsheviks, sailing away under machine-gun fire before the infant Solzhenitsyn had learned to walk. Solzhenitsyn had grown up in the Soviet state, spending years inside its concentration camps and prisons before emerging from behind the Iron Curtain on a mission to reveal a reign of terror and end it forever.

Physically, the men were as dissimilar as their histories. With Nabokov, molasses candy and modern dentures had created a plump, mild professor from a gaunt émigré, while Solzhenitsyn's scarred forehead, wild hair, and prophet's beard marked him as a more volatile presence. Their writing voices, too, stood distinct one from the other, Nabokov's exquisite language and baroque experiments contrasting with Solzhenitsyn's open fury and direct appeals to emotion.

Even their most famous books seem opposite in nature. The Gulag Archipelago chronicles the entire history of the Soviet concentration camp system, bluntly cataloguing the abuse of power on an epic scale, while Nabokov's Lolita maps a more individual horror: the willful savaging of one human being by another. A microscopically detailed account of a middle-aged man's sexual obsession with a young girl, Lolita has been variously described as "funny," "the only convincing love story of our century," and "the filthiest book I have ever read." Humbert Humbert's tale of the two-year molestation of his stepdaughter describes their relationship, her escape with another man, and Humbert's revenge on his romantic rival in merciless, vivid language. The narrator's frankness about his desire for and relations with a child destined the book to pass through scandal on its way to immortality.

Lolita had started her long reign over the American bestseller lists in 1958, by which point Nabokov had been garnering critical attention on both sides of the Atlantic for decades. But it was his nymphet novel—and the risqué film Stanley Kubrick made from it—that launched him into notoriety, then celebrity. Banned in Australia, Buenos Aires, and at the Cincinnati Public Library, Nabokov's novel had managed to sell more copies in its first three weeks in America than any book since Gone with the Wind.

And just as Solzhenitsyn mapped a uniquely Soviet geography in The Gulag Archipelago, Nabokov laid out the landscape of postwar America in Lolita. It was an entirely different archipelago—one of roadside motels, sanatoriums, hotel conferences, pop psychology, immigrant drifters, a Kansas barber, a one-armed veteran, Safe-ways and drugstores, sanctimonious book clubs, and an unnerving religiosity. It was a glorious, expansive, intolerant, and amnesiac backdrop, one that revealed just as much as Solzhenitsyn's opus about the country in which it was set, a stage perfectly suited for a story of betrayal and corruption.

After Lolita 's phenomenal launch, Nabokov had sold the film and paperback rights for six figures each. Traveling to Hollywood, he rubbed shoulders with John Wayne, whom he did not recognize, and Marilyn Monroe, whom he did. He left his career as an American college professor, becoming the subject of New Yorker cartoons and late-night television comedy. On overseas trips, he was accosted by the press and written up in a half-dozen languages across the continent.

His morals were called into question ("utterly corrupt," raged one New York Times critic), but over time his detractors tended to be mocked as puritans and killjoys. The sexually swinging era that followed Lolita's creation was not of Nabokov's making, but its mores helped influence the perception of the book in subsequent years. By the time Solzhenitsyn arrived in Germany, Lolita had become part of a stable of stories about older men with an itch for underage, promiscuous partners. Webster's, Nabokov's favorite dictionary, would eventually add Lolita's name to its pages, offering up the off-kilter definition of "a precociously seductive girl."

The book's linguistic richness and power vaulted it into an existence in which it took on meanings independent of its creator. In vain would Nabokov describe how his nymphet was one of the most innocent and pure among the gallery of slaves he had created as characters; to no avail would Véra remind reporters of how a captive Lolita cried herself to sleep each night.

Setting aside those who thought Lolita a tease and her author an arted-up dirty-books writer, Nabokov had many admirers among the literary set. But it was a peculiar fan club. Despite their cool reverence for Lolita, her most famous fans were prone to calling her author cruel. Bestselling novelist Joyce Carol Oates checked Nabokov for having "the most amazing capacity for loathing" and "a genius for dehumanizing"—and this from someone who liked the book.

Oates's 1973 comment was not even the first shot across the bow. Many others, before and after, took up the same cry, from John Updike, who acknowledged the difficulty of distinguishing the callousness of Nabokov's characters from their author's "zest for describing deformity and pain," to Martin Amis, who would be even more direct decades later: "Lolita is a cruel book about cruelty." Whether they were meant to praise or damn, such comments had a long history. By the time Oates's article on Lolita appeared, Nabokov's fellow writers had been describing his work as inhuman or dehumanizing for forty years.


2

After the celebrity of Lolita, Nabokov moved to Europe but continued to spark the American imagination. He followed up with Pale Fire, an academic satire starring Charles Kinbote, yet another tormented pedophile, along with a dead poet named John Shade. It was hailed by Mary McCarthy in the pages of The New Republic as "one of the very great works of art of this century." Profiled in LIFE and Esquire ("The Man Who Scandalized the World"), Nabokov had become so popular that his fifteenth novel, Ada, a convoluted narrative smorgasbord of brother-sister incest, won him the cover of Time magazine—a portrait of the writer as an enigma. Before it was even published, one Hollywood mogul after another flew to Switzerland to be permitted a few hours with the manuscript.

As time went on, the world came more and more to Nabokov, and he went less and less into the world. Despite occasional thoughts of moving elsewhere, he ended up settling with Véra into a protected existence in Montreux. He welcomed visitors for what he called interviews, giving written answers to questions submitted in advance, and trying to restrain the untamed journalists who preferred to use words he had actually spoken aloud.

When he could, he worked to script his television appearances just as completely, hiding note cards among the potted plants and tea cups of a studio set. Collecting his interviews with The New York Times, the BBC, and other organizations, he revised them to be more to his liking and published the Nabokov-approved versions in a separate book. He was a man in almost perfect control of his public persona, and the persona he created was that of the reserved, jolly genius who was both a master and a devotee of his art.

His genius may have been beyond judgment at that point, but Nabokov was himself more than willing to judge. He had a lifetime habit of mocking other authors, calling T. S. Eliot "a fraud and a fake" and despising the moral lectures of Dostoyevsky (whose characters were "sinning their way to Jesus"), Faulkner (filled with "skeletonized triteness" and "biblical rumblings"), and Pasternak ("melodramatic and vilely written"). He likewise dismissed Hemingway, Henry James, Balzac, Ezra Pound, Stendhal, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, André Gide, Andre Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, and women novelists as a group. While he sometimes disapproved of the phrase, Nabokov had become an avatar of art for art's sake: a playful experimenter for whom the stylistic needs of a story trumped all moral consideration.

He ranked pride between kindness and fearlessness on his list of the highest human virtues, and he wielded that pride like a surgeon's knife in literary exchanges and mocking repartee that, in his younger days, had earned him at least one bloody nose. More often, however, Nabokov was gracious when met on his own terms. And since Lolita 's success, he had more and more often been able to impose those terms.

In the heyday of political activism, he was inclined to abstain. He had never made a secret of his loathing for the Soviet system, which came up even more frequently than his disdain for Freud (which came up often). But he never voted, he never put a yard sign out for a candidate, he never signed a petition. He did, however, coyly send a congratulatory telegram to President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, praising his "admirable work." Were the accolades for sending troops to Vietnam to fight the Communist menace, or for the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Most likely it was both. And he equally coyly avoided criticizing Joseph McCarthy's tactics by saying they could not, at any rate, be compared to Stalin's. It was his habit not to run for office, endorse candidates, or otherwise enter the political fray. He had settled, in fact, in an entirely neutral country, which was itself occasionally criticized as mercenary and uncaring—one which had, at the time of Nabokov's arrival, not fought in a war for a hundred and forty-six years.

His suite of rooms on the sixth floor of the Palace Hotel were more professorial than palatial. He had an ancient, battered lectern on loan from the hotel, which the staff said had once been used by Flaubert—a writer Nabokov did admire. The unabridged Webster's dictionary lay open as he worked, with his shorts and casual shoes and books and butterfly nets bundled into a private corner of a hotel, the temporary shelter turned permanent, his long residence there serving as conclusive evidence of his own exile.

Exile had been a theme in Nabokov's life since childhood. He had left Russia with his family in the aftermath of the Revolution. He later escaped Hitler's Berlin and Occupied France, though people he loved had not. He had gone hungry with much of Europe during the war, but knew better than to call that suffering. He had not been broken by history; instead, he had in many ways defied it. His Jewish wife and son, a boy who had entered the world in the crucible of Nazi Germany, were still alive. And as if simply living through two wars and a Revolution were not enough, he had also somehow managed to reinvent himself in another language, astounding the world with playfulness, unreliable narrators, and the narrow ledge between coherence and coincidence. He had become both an artist and a symbol of an artist. By writing exactly the kind of books he wanted to, he had reached an iconic level of celebrity, the kind recognized by the preteen girl who knocked at his door one Halloween dressed as Lolita.


3

Solzhenitsyn possessed another kind of fame—the kind reserved for David fighting Goliath: the fame of the crusader. His 1962 novel about the stark reality of a Soviet labor camp, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, had shocked the West and received praise from unexpected sources—including Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who had used the book to underline the abuse of power under Joseph Stalin: "So long as we work we can and must clear up many points and tell the truth.... This we must do so that such things never happen again."

Just two years after championing Solzhenitsyn's novel, however, Khrushchev had been forced out of power, replaced by others less interested in addressing the crimes of the past. The Party reversed itself and began to censor and confiscate Solzhenitsyn's writing. His hidden archive was raided. He began to be slandered in meetings. In a plot worthy of Nabokov, a fake double showed up to impersonate Solzhenitsyn, drinking and harassing women in public until the author's friends caught the impostor and turned him over to authorities, who released him.

As long as Solzhenitsyn insisted on writing about Russian history—which was the only thing he wanted to do—it was inevitable that official trouble would follow. In 1968, his works were banned. The Union of Soviet Writers, which had welcomed and praised him when Khrushchev had done the same, became nervous. What should they do about this unpredictable, difficult man? Nobel Prize-winning Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov, who had always been a harsh critic of his fellow novelist, advocated not just banning Solzhenitsyn's work but keeping him from writing altogether. And indeed, a year later, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers. Expulsion made it impossible for him to publish in the Soviet Union or to hire anyone to help him with his work. He had no legal occupation, reducing him to a state of existence beyond precarious in the U.S.S.R. He was ripe for arrest.

In protest, Solzhenitsyn wrote open letters for Russian and foreign distribution. He met with friends and supporters, seeking their aid. He directed the smuggling of microfilms of his manuscripts to the West, where they would be ready to publish if he could not publish at home.

The world's response was massive. Arthur Miller, John Updike, Jean-Paul Sartre, Muriel Spark, Graham Greene, and Kurt Vonnegut spoke out with hundreds of other writers for Solzhenitsyn, condemning the decision of the Writers' Union. The outcry drew attention to his plight and his work.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov by Andrea Pitzer. Copyright © 2013 Andrea Pitzer. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction,
CHAPTER ONE: Waiting for Solzhenitsyn,
CHAPTER TWO: Childhood,
CHAPTER THREE: War,
CHAPTER FOUR: Exile,
CHAPTER FIVE: Aftermath,
CHAPTER SIX: Descent,
CHAPTER SEVEN: Purgatory,
CHAPTER EIGHT: America,
CHAPTER NINE: After the War,
CHAPTER TEN: Lolita,
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Fame,
CHAPTER TWELVE: Pale Fire,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Speak, Memory,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Waiting for Solzhenitsyn,
Coda,
Acknowledgments,
Abbreviations,
Notes,
Index,

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  • Posted May 1, 2013

    I've been reading (and re-reading) Nabokov for more than 30 year

    I've been reading (and re-reading) Nabokov for more than 30 years. I love his books.
    As a former prosecutor and a cynical, and practical, lawyer, I thought that I paid close attention to language and details.

    Reading The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov has been a truly humbling, and exhilarating, experience in which I am reminded how risky it is to take anything for granted when I read. I marvel at the insights, historical and other, that Pitzer illuminates in Nabokov's work. It is humbling to realize how much I uncritically skimmed over that was right before my eyes.

    Charles Kinbote’s journey, and his relationship with John Shade, take on new dimensions if Kinbote’s escape was not from some fictitious kingdom, but from a place of horror. If you know about Humbert Humbert’s teenage romance, his obsession with Lolita years later is placed in a different context when you realize in full the fate of her “precursor.” I can never again lazily assume that what I failed to grasp in some sentence can be safely ignored as some detached, apolitical, literary indulgence.

    This book is a must-read -- and a complete joy -- for anyone who appreciates the majesty of Nabokov’s writing and his contribution to literature. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down until 3:30 a.m., when I turned the last page and wanted to start all over, this time with the corresponding Nabokov novel in my lap. Ms. Pitzer’s work is a real treasure – I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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