The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov by Andrea Pitzer
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.
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.
The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov 5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
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.
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