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The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokovby Andrea Pitzer
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A startling and revelatory examination of Nabokov's life and works--notably and --bringing new insight into one of the twentieth century's most enigmatic authors.
About the Author
Andrea Pitzer is an editor for the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and the founder of the Neiman Storyboard site. She is a regular contributor to USA Today's "Life" section and is a judge for the National Magazine Awards. Pitzer is a graduate of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service and lives in Falls Church, VA.
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