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Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,147 ratings  ·  143 reviews

Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for biography and hailed by critics as both “monumental” (The Boston Globe) and “utterly romantic” (New York magazine), Stacy Schiff’s Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) brings to shimmering life one of the greatest literary love stories of our time. Vladimir Nabokov—the émigré author of Lolita; Pale Fire; and Speak, Me
Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 4th 2000 by Modern Library (first published 1999)
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For you are the only person I can talk to--about the hue of a cloud, about the singing of a thought, and about the fact that when I went out to work today and looked each sunflower in the face, they all smiled back at me with their seeds.

This is how Vladimir Nabokov wrote to his wife, Véra. She was a lover of the arts and literature; a woman who spoke four languages and taught and translated modern langauages. She was also the integral half of Vladimir Nabokov, the man who was a great writer
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A biography written after its subject has died must necessarily be an approximation. This is never more true than in a case like this, where the subject wanted to be unknowable, even while alive ("I am always there. But well-hidden."). It is this book's greatest strength that Schiff manages to paint a vivid picture of Vera in all her wonderful contradictions regardless.

I knew nothing about Vera Nabokov when I started this book and I left it feeling like I had known her personally. The picture Sc
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
With this book I conclude my review of Gertrude Stein's "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas."

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; Vladimir Nabokov and Vera Evseevna Slonim-Nabokov. Their lives and stories run along parallel lines.

Alice B. Toklas and Vera Nabokov both survived their famous partners. They both died at age 89. In "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas", where Gertrude Stein appropriated the voice of her partner Alice, the latter called Gertrude Stein a "genius". Vera Nabokov simil
Raul Bimenyimana
An extensive biography of a very elusive figure. The woman without whom Nabokov's art couldn't have existed as it did. The love and intimacy of the Nabokovs was great to read, as well as their collaborative efforts through the years. I wish this audiobook was better though, the narrator's attempts to mimic an elderly person's voice or a male voice as well as the French accents here and there were annoying and distracted from the work.
This is an interesting book, well worth reading and I recommend it. It is about both Vladimir Nabokov AND his wife, Véra. It is about a strong, wonderful marriage, despite the fact that Vladimir had several mistresses. It was a love match. What the book does best is open up to the reader their relationship, their understanding for each other and their shared interests, be it butterfly catching, their son Dimitri or and most importantly Vladimir’s writing. Véra saw the greatness of Vladimir’s wri ...more
I'm not sure why anyone would read an author's biography without already being familiar with the author's works; I'm even less certain why anyone would read a biography of an author's spouse without knowing anything much about the author. But I just did.

Unfortunately Schiff did not successfully make a case that Vera Nabokov is interesting in her own right, and after reading this, I don't even want to know more about her husband or his work. Maybe if I had read some Nabokov, I'd have liked this b
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Vera is a nonentity. This book is really about Vladimir and how his life was enriched by his wife of 50+ years.
The narrative started strong, but once the family moved to the USA it became quite uninteresting. I'm going to hang in and finish, but honestly i don't care anymore. This is definitely not Cleopatra.
2.5 stars unless one is looking for a testament to a happy marriage

2017 Lenten Buddy Reading Challenge book #23
Jan 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I cried when I finished this book. And not because Vera Nabokov dies, just as VN does, but because Schiff does such an excellent job of writing about this amazing woman and an amazing love story, without trying too hard to solve Vera's mysteries (which would simply be impossible). Although perhaps Vera wouldn't have liked the book, I think VN would have approved of Schiff's writing, to at least some degree. Her language is fluid, and while my one complaint is perhaps too much Nabokov and not eno ...more
ahenk goklu
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
She was smart as a whip. She spoke four languages. She was hard-working and meticulous. She was his first reader, his editor and his muse. She loved literature and she loved him... Oh Nabokov, you were one lucky man!
Beautiful biography with juicy details about a six-decade long marriage. Not to miss.
''Blind passion was one thing, all-knowing intimacy a rarer commodity.''
Feb 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Stacy Schiff is a gifted writer and biographer. I enjoyed the intimate, comprehensive view into the life of Vladimir and Vera Nabokov. Theirs was a complicated, deep, nuanced love, and I'm so glad that I never had to challenge them in a game of Scrabble. It would have been bloody (in their favor).
Nov 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank God that's over.

I've realized that I come from the school of thought that would much rather let an artist's work speak for itself. Particularly when I admire a product, such as the exquisite Lolita, I find that looking into the way it was made rarely serves to make me appreciate it more. Such with Vladimir and, here, Véra Nabokov, who I am sure found much joy in their codependence but who strike me as being incredibly tedious, self-absorbed people. Stacy Schiff does her best to give an eve
Vladmir Nabokov was a giant in the world of literature, celebrated for works like “Lolita”, and “King, Queen Knave” and his wife, Vera Nabokov was the ultimate woman behind the great man. Vera Nabokov was not only devoted to her husband’s literary career; she was crucial to it. Through 52 years of marriage and for 14 years after her spouse’s demise, she saw the sole meaning of her life as nourishing Nabokov and safeguarding his works and image for posterity. During the lean Berlin years, Vera pr ...more
Jun 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't understand how she forgave him, but I've also never felt anything like the connection between the Nabokovs--instantaneous and entire. Two aptly chosen words on the back of this book that concisely describe Schiff's greatest gift: "succint insight". Also, balance. The way Schiff writes and interacts with people reminds me of something dainty toeing confidently on a fragile surface. You marvel at her understanding of where the ice is thin and where it's not. Véra with her "crystalline laug ...more
While I enjoyed Schiff's writing style and found Véra to be an interesting character, I think this book was probably twice as long as it needed to be. It's the story of the woman behind the man, the woman who made Vladimir Nabokov's long literary career possible. Without her, I'm not convinced he would have been able to stay as focused and get as much done. She's interesting, though her life was so intertwined with her husband's that I felt I learned more about VN than I expected.
The cover of the copy of this book that I read had a photograph of Mrs. N gazing at her husband. The look on her face makes it clear that, when he was in the room, no one else mattered. It seems every love sonnet ever written is held in that gaze. And what comes to my mind most clearly is as if she is living Ben Johnson's "Song to Celia":

Drink to me only with thine eyes
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Parts of this book are absolutely riveting, and others parts a slog. Interesting subject of a writer and his wife.
The book traces Vladimir and Véra Nabokov from their time as Russian émigrés in Berlin until their deaths.

Véra Nabokov was enormously intelligent, hard working, and ambitious—not for herself, but for her husband. She recognized his talent and devoted her prodigious energies to advancing his career. This involved serving as his secretary, editor-contributor, translator, business manager, literary agent, graduate assistant in his university classes, chauffeur, archivist, and liaison to legal and
Jun 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
A thoroughly engaging biography. The author has created an entirely convincing world, obviously the world that she believes Vera Nabokov inhabited. We'll never know, of course, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief - for the moment at least - because Schiff is so skilled in marshalling, presenting and interpreting biograqphical detail in order to reveal her sense of Vera's personality, her beliefs, feelings, preferences, annoyances, and so on. Schiff suppresses any misgivings she may have felt at ...more
Katrina Sark
p.9-10 – Nearly half a million Russians had settled in Berlin over the previous three years, when the ruble went a long way and the city was cheaper for those fleeing the Revolution than any other. In suburbs, where residence permits could be obtained easily, proved especially welcoming. There were émigré Russian hairdressers, grocers, pawnshops, antique stores, foreign-exchange speculators, orchestras. There were two Russian soccer teams.

p.10 – Rul was created one of 150 Russian-language newsp
Larry Wang
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nabokov
Well-researched, interesting overview of the mysterious Vera Nabokov's life. Reading about the Nabokov's, it really seems as if there was a blending of art and life in their existence; fact and fiction seem to be intertwined. One thing that really stuck out to me was simply how tolerant Vera was regarding her husband. Vladimir cheated multiple times, including a huge, drawn-out affair with Irina Guadinini where he nearly left his wife and child and yet Vera forgave him almost seamlessly every ti ...more
Becky Loader
Very nicely done portrait of a marriage between two very strong personalities. If you have read "Lolita," you should read about how Vera saved the manuscript from being destroyed.
Jillian Adams
I DNF this book. I have tried for years and years and I just can't get into it. So clearly it's not for me. I'm releasing myself of this weird obligation I felt.
Nov 24, 2011 rated it liked it
I have never been so ambiguous about a book. It has been many years since I read a Nabokov novel or even his autobiography or biography. I always had a curiosity about Vera's part in his writing. After reading "Vera" I still don't have a definitive answer. Vera obviously was a big part of VN's writing life--she handled the business and tax affairs, seem to have a flair for negotiations and editorial comment. But she (and he) both denied she contributed to the narrative. I guess I am a proponent ...more
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2016
The only Nabokov I have read is the lovely, sweet, sad, and short The Wood Sprite. I had heard that he and Vera had an enduring love story, and I'm always game for that, so I picked up this non-fiction. Having taken several Russian Literature classes in college, I enjoyed the parts that discussed Vladimir's teaching (with Vera's help) and the issues and ideas that were discussed. However, Vera lived 89 years, and it felt like I lived every minute with her with the plodding pace of the story and ...more
Apr 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(I'm moving a few old reviews over from an abandoned book photo project on Flickr.)

This was a Bookmooch book, as I recall, from a few years ago, and it's taken me a while to get around to reading it. Nabokov has been one of my favorites since I was about twenty, which means I suppose that I have loved him for a longer time than I have loved Ross. This biography of Vera Nabokov does as it promises to do, in providing a portrait not of her, or of him, but of the entity that was V.N. squared. It's
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-book-log

At the Midsouth Book Fest this September, I saw a conversation with Lauren Groff, the author of _Fates and Furies_, which I loved. She mentioned that the Vera biography was one of inspiration for the character of Mathilde.

I had gotten the audio version on Audible during a 2 for 1 sale a few months back; I didn't know what I had, but as soon as she mentioned it, I was thrilled to realize I already owned it. I started it IMMEDIATELY and didn't ever want to stop listening to it. The boo
Eva Stachniak
Sep 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read it during the summer. What a biography! A portrait of a woman, literary wife, her husband's muse and secretary and his agent. Aloof, cerebral, utterly devoted to her husband's writing, Vera Nabokov was a formidable force. Stacy Schiff is a wonderful biographer. Thorough, honest and full of compassionate understanding of human foibles. As it is always with the two Nabokovs...if you take Vera you have to take Vladimir, too, so the book gives the insight to both.
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I never really expected to have a favorite biographer, but I do, and it's Stacy Schiff.

There are so many fascinating aspects to Vera's story - which stretches from pre-Revolutionary St Petersburg to the 1990s - and they're well-captured here. And her relationship with her husband, and her role in his work... well, if you've read him you should read this. There were just a few moments when the theorizing got a little too abstract/repetitive for me, but I really loved this book.
Nov 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't love this book. Interesting relationship. She did sooo much for him. She put together his classes and even taught them.

They loved each other deeply but he was weak and would have affairs if she was away.

One thing was interesting. They had no patience with the academic/limousine liberal's romance with socialism. They had escaped that nightmare and had no illusions about it.
Jeffrey Coleman
I loved the story, and I liked what the biographer was trying to do. but she might have made her point with fewer details. More than once I considered quitting. I'm told her Cleopatra is far better. still because I like Nabokov and enjoy a good (real-life) love story, I persevered. and am glad I did.
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NonFiction Pulitzers: Vera: Jan/Feb 2020 Group Read 54 33 Apr 02, 2020 06:37PM  

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Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, and the Gilbert Chinard Prize of the Institut Français d'Amérique. All three were New York Times Notable Books; ...more

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