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The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  170 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
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
ebook, 400 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Pegasus Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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A disappointing book. Well-researched but the actual analysis was limited and consistently hampered by its idiotic thesis - that Nabokov's works deal with political themes in the same sense as Solzhenitsyn's. Pitzer begins by presenting a thoroughly outdated view of Nabokov - the stylist with nothing to say (Babel's description, iirc) and sets out to cut it down. It's a bit ??? given that anyone who has understood Lolita, or Invitation to a Beheading, or any of Nabokov's novels, will know that N ...more
Jim Coughenour
Andrea Pitzer has made a fine book out what all readers of Nabokov know – behind the glitter, the wordplay, the baroque plots, the hauteur and hilarity is horror, the historical horror of the 20th century. This is most evident in the early novels (Invitation to a Beheading; The Real Life of Sebastian Knight; Bend Sinister; Despair), but Pitzer shows how these dark themes play out just behind the surface of the more artful novels – Lolita; Pnin; and Pale Fire. In her view, Nabokov engaged in a li ...more
This was a really fascinating read. Nabokov, often thought of as an "art for Art's sake" artist actually has been addressing some of the major events of the 20th century in his books throughout his career. I refer to the Russian Revolution, WW1 it's concentration camps which bled over to WW2.The author follows the trajectory of both Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn's careers, toward the day they were supposed to meet at Nabokov's apartment in Switzerland. For whatever reason, Solzhenitsyn never showed u ...more
Meir F. Glide
May 01, 2013 Meir F. Glide rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 t
Murat Ocal
Nov 22, 2014 Murat Ocal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yalnızca Nabokov'un hayatına ilişkin saklı kalanları değil, yirminci yüz yılın ilk yarısının üzeri örtülmüş dile getirilmesi konusunda isteksiz davranılmış gerçeklerine de ışık tutan bir kitap. biyografi meraklısı için başkasının hayatını incitmeden ve yersiz neşter darbeleri ile popüler ilgiye göz kırpmayan çok incelik ve emekle yazılmış. Andrea Pitzer seneler süren bir çalışmayla, ülkeleri gezerek bir kitap yazmış. Çevirmen Yiğit Yavuz güzel Türkçesi ile herkese örnek olacak bir titizlikle çal ...more
Oct 11, 2013 Louise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Knowing a sketch of Vladimir Nabokov's life (a noble who fled the Russian Revolution to Germany with his Jewish wife only to need to flee again), I wondered where "Lolita" came from.... and still do. Although I didn't get my answer, first time author Andrea Pitzer delivered an interesting read.

Most interesting, for me, was not the subject but the related parts. The life of Nabokov's father, the extent of internment and labor camps (from WWI and beyond) from Northern Canada to the British Isles a
Brent Legault
The lasering of her thesis* quickly grows wearisome. And I think Nabokov would look dourly upon the many, many stock phrases and phoned-in language used throughout the book (I know I did -- my lips are pursing even now). But she did bring some insight into his, er, oeuvre; especially the close, very close (and, I believe, mostly accurate) reading of Pale Fire.

*The problem I have with her thesis, besides her strangling the reader with it, is that it's a loveless, joyless way of reading Nabokov's
Patrick Kendall
Jul 07, 2013 Patrick Kendall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Skillfully weaving the strands of biography, history, and a closer reading of the political environment of his novels, TSHVN invites a deeper investigation in to Nabokov's seeming cruelty towards his characters. By exposing the horrors of war, concentration camps, and anti-Semitism that chased him across Russia, Berlin, Paris, and finally America, his books can seem to chronicle how violence begets violence and the tragic toll this takes on humanity. New details provide additional threads to unl ...more
Sep 21, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the end, this was a much better book than I thought it would be when I started out. The publisher's hype about it was a bit too strong and sensational. No, the author does not write prose to match Nabokov's, and no , her new insights are not totally earth shaking.

That said, it's a pretty fascinating look at how Nabokov worked into his novels a reaction against the horrors of the first half of the 20th century, from the Russian revolution to concentration camps, to the Nazi holocaust. And he d
Nov 01, 2014 Sera rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nabokov biyografisini elime aldığımda, Nazi Almanyasından çok önce Avrupa'da ve Rusya'da yaygın olan toplama kamplarını, verem mikrobu enjekte edilen Yahudi çocukları, 2.Dünya Savaşı sırasında ABD, İngiltere ve diğer ülkelerin kabul etmediği Yahudi sığınmacıları ve diğer tüm 20.yüzyıl utançlarını bu kadar ayrıntılı okumayı beklemiyordum. Tarihsel gerçekleri Nabokov'un yaşamıyla iç içe okumak isteyenlerin ilk başvuracakları kitap bu olmalı. Buna rağmen, Nabokov'un eserlerinde satır aralarında bu ...more
Feb 24, 2015 Ludmilla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Soljenitsin başlangıcını ve Nabokov'u Soljenitsin'e iliştirme çabalarını başarısız buldum. Bu iğneyle kuyu kazma çabası yerine Nabokov'un eserleri hakkında daha fazla bilgi verilebilirdi. Amaçlanan Nabokov'u daha insani yanlarını göstermek gibi görünüyor. Yazar olarak başarılı bulduğum ancak okuduklarımdan pek sevilesi bulmadığım, her daim soğuk ve küçümseyici görünen Nabokov'a birazcık ısındığımı söyleyebilirim. Ama kitap boyunca Nabokov'un romanlarındaki her yahudi atıfı irdelendiğinde şunu dü ...more
False Millennium
Pitzer made a genuine effort to track a very elusive, flitty man and his equally shrouded literature. Nabokov was a big believer in the reader finding him within his art, but he loved to entrench deeply, and how much time does the average reader have to engage in that without it becoming something obsessional--and there are those people out there. I did gain a greater understanding of how Nabokov wove his personal past in terms of the upheaval of wars and immigration into his books...his concern ...more
World Literature Today
"The Secret Life of Vladimir Nabokov is a tremendous book, but perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that Pitzer inspires us to return to Nabokov, to go back and re-read his entire oeuvre with a new, now unsentimental eye." - Andrew Martino, Southern New Hampshire University

This book was reviewed in the September 2013 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our website:
Rachel Jackson
As a fan of all things Vladimir Nabokov, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new biography of his work on the shelf of my local library the other day. I thought I had gone through everything there was to offer there on the great prose master of the 20th century, so I picked it up with glee. The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov, provocative title and all, did pique my interest, but I wonder now if it held my attention purely because the subject is my favorite author.

Going into this book it's c
Sep 02, 2013 Oren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
my first review..

This book was set aside by librarians at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library on the Fiction floor, where they always put aside five or six non-fiction books for fiction readers to pick up. Every time I had walked past this book I would pick it up, read it for a few minutes, but leave it. I finally took it home and loved it.

Due to the nature of the man and his life, the book is unable to provide a huge amount of details on specific periods of his life, especially going farther ba
Susan from MD
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 02, 2014 Kerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia, biography
Extremely readable and well-written, The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov delves into Nabokov's hidden politics and human rights causes, buried so deep within his texts that they sometimes require literary sleuthing to uncover. The book builds evidence slowly, putting Nabokov's life in context with history and contrasting his work with that of Solzhenitsyn, who appears through this book as a minor character.

Pitzer gets off to a slow start, but the pace matches Nabokov's development of literar
David Winn
A good literary biography. Pitzer is more interesting when she focuses on the texts and historical contexts for them rather than the elements of Nabokov's life that seem to have mild influence or inconclusive relations.

To follow the somewhat sensational title, she employs several sentences that attempt to build suspense and has a penchant for rhetorical questions. These habits become tiresome at points.

There is some very well done reading and analysis, though. The persistent themes of Jewishness
Jul 08, 2013 Pip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographical
I truly enjoyed this book, though it was not quite what I expected.

The book examines the relative position of Nabokov on the scale of political versus art for art's sake authorial intent. She tries to expose the tension between various revolution era Russian emigre authors, and then place Nabokov's literary output within this.

According to her, Nabokov was seen as unsupportive of mother Russia by most of his contemporaries. Her central thesis is that this view is not fair. She focuses on Nabokov
Apr 06, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
What a fascinating life Nabokov lived. His family managed to escape the Bolsheviks, the Nazis (twice), and it took years for him to get the recognition he deserved. Sadly, many will continue to overlook his genius because they have a narrow-minded view of his most controversial work, Lolita. This is a great biography that also includes many details of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's role in 20th century Russian literature.
Mar 09, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well researched. Offers some new and intriguing insights to Nabokov's most famous novels; describes how the horrors of the First World War influenced Nabokov's pre-WWII novels, and how the thread of totalitarianism and the evils of concentration camps can be traced through a huge portion of his fiction.
Joan Zylkin
Feb 02, 2014 Joan Zylkin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommend
a good place to start if you know nothing about the author of Lolita, and also an overview of Russian society before and after the Tsars.
Vikas Datta
Jan 05, 2015 Vikas Datta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quite a detailed and penetrating analysis of this most singular novelist's craft and thought...
Mar 31, 2014 Misha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think it is time to dive into the Nabokov writings
Mar 06, 2017 NC rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thorough analysis of the life and works of Vladimir Nabokov in light of 20th century world history, Nabokov's friendship with Edmund Wilson, and the parallel (though not parallel) career of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. The section on WWII and America's reaction to Jewish refugees is particularly relevant for the modern reader. I finished this book feeling inspired to re-read the Nabokovian novels/ novellas/ memoirs I thought I knew.
Mar 09, 2017 Karina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: educational
Excellent book, enjoyed the first part the most. Great description of his early life in pre-soviet Russia.

There's a lot more here on Solzhenitsyn, which is surprising, considering that from at least the title alone you'd think this is more of a critical/biographical assessment of Nabokov's works and life. And it is, but there are many semi-digressions into some of the more arcane and harrowing aspects of the nightmare that was Soviet political life.

You might go for this book as a Nabokov fan, which is why I picked it up, and you might expect something more oriented in one direction: "secret" histo
Levent Mollamustafaoglu
I learned about this book from a fellow translator who has published the Turkish translation of Pale Fire (no small feat!) and is currently translating this. I wanted to read it as quickly as possible for the Nabokov adaptation I'm currently doing for a play.

The book is a much enlarged version of an academic study Andrea Pitzer did and she seems to have done several years off research which has been enabled by a Harvard grant. The quality of the research is apparent from the richness of the not
Lane Willson
Just a few months ago I was able to, for the first time, finish a Russian novel - The Idiot by Dostoevsky. (... I know) Russian names translated into English for some reason pisses off my dyslexia. The random usage of the character's full name, pet name, nickname, official title, or some combination thereof, doesn't help either. So when Vladimir Nabokov's name rang again and again in Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir, my dyslexia and I were a bit leery, but agreed to give Nabokov a shot. And that is ...more
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My writing has appeared many places in print and online, from USA Today and Slate to Poet Lore. I founded Nieman Storyboard, the narrative nonfiction site for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

I also presented on the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov at the 2009 Modern Language Association conference in Philadelphia, and have spoken on narrative journalism in the U.S. and abroad
More about Andrea Pitzer...

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