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Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)

Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff is a one of the best books that I have ever read. It was written in 1999 and received a Pullitzer prize and, as far as I can tell, this books deserves it.

Written for the most part as a biography, this book manages to focus it's attention not on the author of "Lolita", but on his wife, Vera Nabokov. A woman who is almost as fascating if not more than her husband, Vladimir Nabokov. She functioned for more than forty years as her husband's secretary, fellow butterfly catcher (Nabokov was a big collector of butterflies), translator, lawyer, typist, teaching assistant (while he taught at Cornell University), as well as the mother to their son. Given this impressive list, one cannot but help be impressed by how well Ms. Schiff manages to make Vera into a cohesive, living and breathing person.

She devotes many pages to the wrangling that went during the years, when Vera rather than her husband made most of the trips to New York to ask publishers to publish "Lolita." Schiff also writes lengthily about Vladimir and Vera's trips throughout the western US, fascinating reading in itself, as well as his teaching at Cornell, and the state of the Russian emigrant community of Berlin where the Nabokovs lived during the early part of their marriage.

This book is excellent also because Schiff meticulously researches the book and gives us the notes and even footnotes to see that she has done her homework. The style of the book is very much academic, but it is very readable and although the book sometimes seems to be very slow going, it is a very interesting book about a fascinating woman.


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