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The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  4,888 ratings  ·  781 reviews
A gripping true-crime investigation of the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and how it inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Ecco
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ERIN SCHMIDT I've never read Lolita and I think you can appreciate this nonfiction work (I'm about 1/3 through now) without reading/liking the book or Nabokov. It'…moreI've never read Lolita and I think you can appreciate this nonfiction work (I'm about 1/3 through now) without reading/liking the book or Nabokov. It's PERFECTLY FINE to dislike a book written from the point of view of a child abuser and if anyone tells you otherwise, shame them thoroughly.

Readers, please note that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Vladimir Nabokov himself ever abused a girl or even had any proclivity to do so. When deciding whether or not to read this book, keep in mind that while Sally Horner was the victim of a very real kidnapping for a period of about two years, Nabokov's interest in the case was purely literary. My point is you can (and should) hate Sally's kidnapper, you can (and should) hate Humbert Humbert, but if you hate Vladimir Nabokov's writing itself, judge it solely by literary merit and not because you think he was a bad person. (less)

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Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman is a 2018 Ecco publication.

I’ll admit I was not familiar with the Sally Horner case until recently. This book and the historical fiction accounting of Sally Horner’s life- Rust and Stardust- have catapulted the true crime, horror this poor girl endured into the public consciousness, decades after the fact.

But, revisiting this case, also brings up the alleged link between Vladimir Nabakov’s
To be honest, this feels like someone took, like, an English 201 essay and made it 300 pages long.

It's not true crime. It's not literary analysis. It's this weird kind of ill-marketed in-between thing and it's a huge bummer.

All the information is interesting, and Sally Horner really deserves to have her story told after Nabokov (that prick) took inspiration from her trauma and then spent his life denying it...but this ain't it.

Also, there are a lot of extrapolations and what seems to me like con
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

“Here’s how I imagine . . .”

Simply put, that’s my whole problem with The Real Lolita. This is a book that doesn’t have much book to it. There are few documents remaining to provide detail and the main players are all deceased. Heck, even the person who this is about is dead by the halfway point and my Kindle copy was wrapped up at 76%. The remainder of the story is full of quotes like the following . . .

“Here’s the point in
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
(Note: Unbiased review in exchange for an ARC from Edelweiss.)

Robert Frost sees two paths while on a hike, and goes to his desk to write a most famous poem. Should we acknowledge the original influence of the paths, the direct connection between their existence and the poem, or do we think of the poem forever as separate from the reality?

That's facetious but it is a distillation of the idea here is at the heart of "The Real Lolita": Where do we see the reality, and to what extend should we credi
Bill Kerwin
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it

Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita is perhaps unique in the annals of true crime because of the double mystery it explores. The first mystery: to discover the real girl behind a half-forgotten news story, the kidnapping in 1948 of eleven-year-old Sally Horner by fifty-year-old pedophile Frank La Salle and their subsequent twenty-one month odyssey from Camden, New Jersey to San Jose, California. The second mystery: to discover the relationship between Sally and her fictional counterpoint Lolita by s
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"Knowing about Sally Horner does not diminish Lolita's brilliance, or Nabokov's audacious inventiveness, but it does augment the horror he also captured in the novel."

I had not heard of Sally Horner's case prior to coming across The Real Lolita, so I was really looking forward to this book. I was captivated by the heartbreaking beginning of the book - Sally's story is truly tragic, and I was curious about what all happened.

Unfortunately, there is just not enough information about Sally to fill
Jan 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime, audio
I listened to the audiobook version of this book, 'The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World', written by Sarah Weinman; the narration was performed by Cassandra Campbell. This is a difficult book for me to rate mainly because it was so ambitious, perhaps TOO ambitious. The aim of the book was twofold: it is part literary detective non-fiction and part true-crime. To me, the author was only successful in the true-crime aspect.

Sarah Weinman hypothes
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Unfair, uneven, and reaching. Oh, and funny enough, it's exploitative in exactly the way it pretends to critique/remedy. Sarah Weinman rides Vladimir Nabokov's coattails for riding Sally Horner's coattails, all as she rides Sally Horner's coattails. More "huh?" than "aha!" going on here.

Full disclosure: I'm totally partial to Lolita.

And I am not ashamed.
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly researched and incredibly readable. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I find it interesting how divisive it seems to be after having skimmed through some ratings/reviews of it. Some people (particularly those who seem to really love Lolita and admire Vladimir Nabokov as a writer) even seem rather angry at Sarah Weinman for having written it. I've always loved Lolita myself, and I've come away from this book feeling much differently than a lot of people have.

Some of the biggest c
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
With The Real Lolita author Weinman has dueling narratives - 1.) detailing the abduction of juvenile Sally Horner in 1948 by a career criminal / sex offender and the incident's aftermath and 2.) the genesis for Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov's runaway but controversial best-seller Lolita, which possibly drew inspiration from the Horner case, that was released about ten years later.

I found the 'true crime' segments more compelling. Though Weinman notes that some information has simply
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone who has ever thought about Lolita. It is a disturbing read in many ways. It examines Lolita as the protagonist of Nabokov’s novel and brings her story to the forefront, absent of HH’s malicious dandification of abuse, considering her heroism and agency. It is also a demand for accountability of the ways that young girls, in life and in fiction, are stripped of their own narratives. It is also amazing how Lolita, the character haunts me. Nabokov considered her and not HH on ...more
As a true crime writer, I loved how Sarah Weinman unearthed a story that inspired so much prurience without engaging in it herself; her Sally Horner is not a footnote or a parenthetical or a caricature of pigtails and lollipops. She is a real girl, the subject rather than the object.

Great book, gonna have to read Lolita again for the first time since.... college?
Anita Pomerantz
I loved the idea of this book, but the execution fell a little flat. Weinman tells the true crime story of Sally Horner's kidnapping and then attempts to prove how Vladimir Nabokov used it as inspiration for the story of Lolita. If you haven't read Lolita, I think this book will be a hard one to appreciate. If you have, you may find the evidence for his reliance on the Sally Horner story to be a little forced. Realistically, pedophilia is not some new phenomenon, and the Horner story is more uni ...more
Susan Albert
Excellent. Should be required reading for any serious reader of Nabokov's Lolita.

Weinman's book is a detailed source study of the real-life materials available to Nabokov when he was writing the novel. It is also a study of the tragic kidnapping and repeated rapes of Sally Horner, the young girl whose story Nabokov "strip-mined to produce the bones of Lolita." And then concealed, in an attempt to enhance his reputation as a literary genius whose imaginative work was created sui generis, independ
Nov 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book quite a while ago. I'm not sure why I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, but I have a few guesses. 1) I read it too soon after I finished the fictional story about Sally Horner, Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood. 2) Too much comparison with Lolita that I felt took away from the story of Sally. 3) It felt meandering at times like she had an idea and added it in, but it didn't add to the story of Sally. It was just extra facts.

I gave it 3 stars because I appreciate all
Jun 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scored this beauty at BookExpo from the super talented Sarah Weinman. Picked it up and could not put it down. Absolutely riveting.
I read this book to fill the Truly Terrifying square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

I heard the author of The Real Lolita interviewed on the radio and was immediately intrigued. I’ve read true crime. I’ve read biography and books seeking to trace an author’s process. But this is the first book I’ve read that really combines the two and does so effectively.

When I think about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, I think about a work of fiction. But where did Nabokov get his idea from? It turns out that thi
Susan Grodsky
I haven't finished this book, but since Goodreads won't let me write my review until I've marked the book as finished, I will do so.

I'm not abandoning this book. I am interested enough to read to the last page. But I'll be skimming rather than reading.

I read this book for the JCC book festival. I will recommend that we not include it. It's not a terrible book, but the only Jewish content is that the author is Jewish. That's not enough when the book itself is only mediocre.

Here's what I'd like to
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
After Reading Rust and Stardust, I looked for information about the real Sally Horner only to find very few details. Then, with perfect timing, this book came out. In this book, Weinman, drew from extensive research: interviews, in-person visits to the places that Horner lived, reportings on the kidnapping, rescue, and trial, court documents, and Nabokov’s papers. The author did throw in some some logical speculation in a few spots, though. Unfortunately, only half the book is about Sally. I can ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wow... Makes me want to reread Lolita and read some of the other Nabokov's books. ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've always taken issue with Nabokov's Lolita. Granted, I read it almost thirty years ago, when I was 23--and worked with a mostly male staff at a book store in Harvard Square. Everyone seemed to "get it" but me. Not wanting to look stupid--or worse, provincial--I kept (mostly) quiet. Weinman's book has helped me to understand that perhaps I was actually the only person on my shift who "got it." By uncovering conclusive links between the kidnapping case of Sally Horner in 1948 and Nabokov's crea ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s probably been 20 years since I read Lolita and I remember very little about it; it’s one of those things I keep feeling I should reread but am really not quite sure if I can stomach it.

This is true-crime-meets-literary-criticism, exploring the connections between the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner in the late 1940s and Nabokov’s most famous work. Nabokov never admitted to basing his novel on any story in particular (and indeed, he was working on the novel before learning of Horner’s
I don’t understand why this book has so many negavtive reviews on this site. I get that the author was unfortunately unable to dig up a lot of new information about Sally Horner’s tragically short life but I was fascinated by all of the other information about the other people who played roles in both her life and in her hometown’s history. It’s been a really long time since a nonfiction book actually held my attention from beginning to end but I basically finished this in two sittings, I couldn ...more
Vladmir Nabokov, was pathologically private so when he wrote his famous novel "Lolita," he did not credit the crime news story of the day, as one of the sources for his novel. This news story is sadly all to familiar to the current young generation but back in the 1940's, they did not completely understand pedophiles and their scheming methods. Poor and fatherless, Sally Horner didn't have a chance when the child molester Frank LaSalle kidnapped her in 1948. Author Sarah Weinman has carefully co ...more
Nancy Regan
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Weinman's single-minded devotion to proving that Sally Horner and her real-life abductor "Frank La Salle" were the inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov to finish Lolita seems to me to be beside the point. Whether the fictional coincided with the real or was derived from it, the two unreliable narrators and their gaslighting of their child victims are still relevant examples of the vicious pastime of victim-blaming. The minor thread of Nabokov's life in Ithaca, New York, which he left only ten years ...more
Kelly Hager
Everyone's heard of Lolita, even if they haven't read the book or seen one of the movies. We all know what people mean when they refer to someone as "Lolita," right? When Amy Fisher shot her boyfriend's wife, she was even dubbed the "Long Island Lolita" in the press. But what generally ISN'T discussed is the fact that Lolita is actually a victim (it isn't even her name; it's what her stepfather and rapist calls her) and we also don't hear that she's based on a real person.

Sally Horner is also th
Nov 05, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I abandoned this. It veers off the actual case constantly. The author talks about other cases of kidnappings and murders from that era that have nothing to do with Sally Horner. She speculated on why LaSalle sent her to Catholic school and how Sally might have prayed. She tries to get into the thoughts of the kidnapper and the victim which is impossible. It’s supposed to be a non fiction book but parts of it feel like fiction. I was very annoyed with her getting on the soap box about the Catholi ...more
Rachel Jackson
Oct 16, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It seems like once every few years some writer/researcher out there proposes a newfangled idea about Vladimir Nabokov's books or writing process or political history or some other such thing, and they feel compelled for some reason to write about it extensively in a book that they tout as never-before-seen-research, or all-new-information, or Nabokov's-secret-life. After a couple of those books emerged within the last decade, now there is The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman, another pathetic attemp ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arcs-tysm
4.5 stars

You can also find this review on my book blog.

Prior to reading The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman I was familiar with Nabokov’s Lolita but haven’t read it so keep in mind that these thoughts come form someone who hasn’t read Lolita. What initially drew me to The Real Lolita was the true-crime aspect of it and the parallel between the Sally Horner case and Lolita was a big plus as well.

The Real Lolita is a true-crime book focused on the kidnapping of an eleven year old girl named Sally
The Library Ladies
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
(originally reviewed at )

“The Real Lolita” is a non fiction work that juxtaposes Sally Horner’s kidnapping at the hands of Frank La Salle with Vladimir Nabokov trying to write “Lolita”. Weinman surmises that Nabokov, who had been having stumbling block after literary stumbling block as he tried to write what would become his most famous work, heard the sensationalized news stories surrounding the case and used it in his work. Nabokov denied this again and again, but Weinm
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Sarah Weinman is the author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, An Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece, which was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, BuzzFeed, The National Post, Literary Hub, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Vulture, and won the Arthur Ellis Award for Excellence in Crime Writing. She also edited the anthologies Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsess ...more

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