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Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov Hardcover – 19 Mar 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (19 Mar. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605984116
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605984117
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.8 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 763,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard J. Clark on 3 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bought for my son who is a lover of Nabakov (not just Lolita but the whole span of his classical works) and its clear thta this book is a new perspective on a master author
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 24 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Something for Everyone 15 Mar. 2013
By Matthew Roth - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Of all the books on Nabokov published since 2000, this may be my favorite (and I have read most of them). The book manages to be a number of things all at once--a biography, a primer on revolutionary Russian history, a critical survey of Nabokov's novels, an act of literary detective work, and a cliffhanger narrative concerning a fateful dinner appointment between literary legends. That it does all these things at once, in a way that is both accessible to newcomers and engaging to seasoned Nabokovians, is a credit to the author. The main idea of the book is that Nabokov, contrary to his reputation as an apolitical aesthete, did in fact write about the horrors of his century. Rather than make these horrors the focus of his subjects, he instead embedded the sadness and tragedy of Europe's dispossessed deep within the weave of his novels. The effect is a kind of psychological realism; the novels' submerged currents of pain mirror those hidden in the background of thousands who, like Nabokov himself, were haunted by the history they managed to escape.

As a biography, the book is not meant to compete with Brian Boyd's two-volume bio; however, Pitzer offers a fresh perspective on Nabokov's family life and unearths genuinely new material related to several important family members. It's an excellent introduction to Nabokov for those who don't have the time or inclination to read Boyd. (I would also recommend Barbara Wyllie's Vladimir Nabokov (Reaktion Books - Critical Lives) bio.) And as I said, Nabokovians too will find a great deal of essential insight here. Highly Recommended!
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Interesting in Parts, Not so in Others 30 April 2013
By Zeebu - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't claim to be a "Nabokovian" (although I wrote my PhD thesis on him), but I've read most of his novels and tried to keep up with the scholarship. I found Pitzer's book a workmanlike piece of writing that was at times informative and interesting, but too often annoying and superficial.

I applaud the author's scholarship and detective work, which was put to excellent use in placing the books in their historical and literary contexts. Less convincing were the strenuous efforts to reveal any sort of "secret history," which struck me more as a clever marketing device than anything else. What Pitzer has unearthed from the texts are the basic real-world materials that all authors use to provide the simulacra of reality in their fictions ("write what you know"). Nabokov didn't "bury" these things; he used them as foundations for the elaborate invented worlds he is so celebrated for. Pitzer strives to make all this important, but if Nabokov thought it was important, why didn't he make it more visible? Moreover, Nabokov was famously dismissive of fiction rooted in sociology, history and biography, and many of his novels contain parodies of these forms. For those enjoying a happy lifelong obsession with an author, it's always interesting to see how his life and times manage to work themselves into the warp and woof of his art, but to find some sort of deliberate intent by Nabokov to hide important themes that only dedicated literary detectives can unearth is not (to use a charitable word) credible. Much has been made of Nabokov's love of games, but this one is a game too far. What's next--acrostics?

Those familiar with Nabokov's biography will know everything there is to know about his relationship with Solzhenitsyn and their famous nonmeeting. I found myself paging quickly though the parts covering Solzhenitsyn because they seemed to add very little to the overall thesis of the book, and the treatment of the meeting that never happened struck me as a clumsy stunt. Much more intriguing was Nabokov's fractured friendship with Edmund Wilson, and I wished that Pitzer had covered this more thoroughly.

Nabokov's life was one of the most fascinating of the twentieth century, not only because he was such a complex mix of genius and lucky, but because it bestrode such a wide swath of history. Nabokov rode the tiger, and not only lived to tell about it, but tell it brilliantly in highly refined stories that deal not with who did what to whom but with human nature and the nature of reality.

In her book, Pitzer makes an attempt at giving us a clearer sense of this, but unfortunately gets knocked off track with her "hidden history" conceit and Solzhenitsyn excursions. Somebody will eventually do it, and then it will be made into a movie, and Nabokov will suddenly be famous all over again.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent Introduction to Nabokov 16 May 2013
By Douglas N. Arvidson - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For those of us who had, for whatever reason, kept Nabokov on the periphery of our reading lives, this was an excellent introduction--a great place to start an investigation of who he was and what events shaped his life and his work. Pitzer gives us a feel for the man and his milieu and an informative review of the tremendous 20th century social/political forces that impacted his development as a writer and a man. For readers who are familiar with Nabokov, Pitzer's comparison of him with Solzhenitsyn will be of interest as will her thesis that, while Nabokov was accused of betraying Mother Russia by not addressing her struggle for a just society directly, the violent and bloody revolutions he escaped profoundly informed the motivations of his characters.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Nabokov revealed 8 Mar. 2013
By bsnyder - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Part history, part lit crit, this wonderfully readable book expands the understanding of Nabokov's writings; especially his most important works: Pale Fire and Lolita. At first decried as the musings of a pedophile, Lolita becomes an explosive condemnation of an entrenched bigotry. Pale Fire, more than a study of insanity, brings to light a hidden history of coercion. Along the way we are witnesses to political assassination, escape a revolution and World War and run with Communists, Nazis and double agents. Pitzer shows how Nabokov, oftentimes criticized for a lack of political engagement, through his writings hides a horrible, forgotten history of the 20th century in order to subversively reveal it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A very worthwhile read for readers of VN 24 Jun. 2013
By J. Hundley - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Despite being a relative old guy, I didn't begin reading Nabokov until around the time of his death, when I was in my late teens. As a result, I was reading his work after (in most cases long after) it was written. And, apparently like many/most VN readers, I never really thought about putting it into an historical context. I read him, as it were, out of time. I became familiar with the basics of his biography (and later, thanks to Brian Boyd, VERY familiar with his biography), but I never really looked upon his writing as being "about" or, exactly, "of" his times. Certainly there were bits and pieces that I could connect, and his returning to themes of tyranny and prisons were clear enough, but I never really thought about his work as charting and commenting directly upon history, or his story, per se.

I read this, then, with great interest and am very pleased to have it in the world. Pitzer does some remarkable research and goes to great pains to uncover people, places and events that turn up, often in obscure and twisted fashion, in Nabokov's work.

Combining literary scholarship, historical narrative and what could pass, in some senses, as investigative journalism, Pitzer reveals just how entwined VN's work is with the life he lived and world he lived it in. A caveat here: this does not treat all of VN's work in depth. the focus is on those of his writings that most fall under the author's focus and as a result, some works get short shrift. This is, of course, as it should be, even though a couple of my personal favorites are barely mentioned. Too bad for me.

A thumbnail review on Amazon is not the place to start larding on detail, and no one needs a synopsis here. I will say only that I learned a great deal here and, perhaps most significantly for a work that is both popular and scholarship, it is prompting me to return to Nabokov's work itself and reread a whole handful of novels in a new light. And, frankly, anything that pokes you to go back into Nabokov is worth a few stars, and anything that sends you back with some new things to think about deserves all five. And it is very well written, to boot.
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