Vladimir Nabokov, his wife Vera, and their six-year-old son Dimitri embarked on a voyage from France to America in May, 1940, escaping just three weeks before the Nazis occupied Paris. When he arrived in the United States—whose land and people he immediately found immensely congenial— Nabokov was known only to a small circle of fellow emigres. No Horatio Alger story could top the improbable saga that followed. A master in his native Russian, Nabokov made himself into a world-class writer in English as well. The unanticipated celebrity of LOLITA brought equally unexpected affluence; in 1959, after years on a modest academic salary, Nabokov was able to quit teaching and devote himself entirely to writing and other pursuits, settling with Vera in a hotel in Montreux, Switzerland, where he was to remain until his death in 1977.
Boyd’s preceding volume, VLADIMIR NABOKOV: THE RUSSIAN YEARS, prompted reviewers’ comparisons to Leon Edel’s life of Henry James and Richard Ellmann’s Joyce. A more fitting comparison would be to that great prototype of literary biography, Boswell’s life of Samuel Johnson. In these two volumes, Boyd has created a portrait of Nabokov that is unforgettably vivid, a tribute to a man who was as charmingly and pugnaciously individual as Dr. Johnson himself. Like Boswell, Boyd writes with unfeigned admiration for his subject, at times shading into idolatry, so determined is he to demolish the misconceptions about Nabokov that have recently been uncritically accepted.
In addition to a narrative of Nabokov’s life, Boyd provides chapter-length discussions of all his major works, frequently illuminated by biographical insights but never failing to respect the imaginative autonomy of each created world. The text is supplemented by notes, an extensive bibliography, an index, and a generous selection of illustrations.
Sources for Further Study
The Atlantic. CCLXVIII, October, 1991, p. 128.
Boston Globe. September 22, 1991, p. 16.
Chicago Tribune. September 22, 1991, XIV, p. 3.
The Christian Science Monitor. September 27, 1991, p. 14.
Kirkus Reviews. LIX, July 15, 1991, p. 901.
Library Journal. CXVI, August, 1991, p. 98.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 29, 1991, p. 2.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, September 22, 1991, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, July 25, 1991, p. 41.
The Washington Post Book World. XXI, September 8, 1991, p. 1.