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Sister's Book on Nabokov About to Drop (1 Viewer)

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
A few years ago while reading Pale Fire, one of Vladimir Nabokov's novels, my sister randomly latched onto some odd threads and kept chasing them.

Long story short, she found that the threads were part of a puzzle Nabokov had left behind, and that they led across six decades and ran through his entire body of work, including Lolita.

And she wrote a book.

The book goes on sale March 6th and the initial reviews are very positive. The first two are from two of the three big industry reviewers, Booklist and Kirkus, and both have given it a starred review.

What's especially cool about this is that while no one solved the puzzles he left behind while he was alive, he predicted someone would:

“In fact I believe that one day a reappraiser will come and declare that, far from having been a frivolous firebird, I was a rigid moralist: kicking sin, cuffing stupidity, ridiculing the vulgar and cruel—and assigning sovereign power to tenderness, talent and pride.”
And part of the Kirkus review:
Vladimir Nabokov always claimed that art and politics don’t mix, but this new biography suggests his own art tells a different story.[snip]

Arriving in America and landing a teaching position, Nabokov focused on his writing and, as some saw it, forgot the past; he never spoke out against injustice, signed petitions, made speeches or even voted. [snip]

Yet, according to the author, in his own imaginative way, Nabokov was bearing witness to the horrors he knew. Drawing on new biographical material and her sharp critical senses, she reveals the tightly woven subtext of the novels [snip]

She suggests that Humbert Humbert, Lolita’s predatory narrator, is a Jew who has been destroyed by what he experienced during the war years. Hermann in Despair, the title character of Pnin and Kinbote in Pale Fire—all bear similar psychic wounds, victims of history who sometimes become villains. [snip]

...this is a brilliant examination that adds to the understanding of an inspiring and enigmatic life.
This is mostly just a proud brother post, but if you're interested in literature and especially if you're interested in Nabokov you should check it out. It's possible it will force a reappraisal of everything one of the great writers of the 20th century ever published, and change his image as an amoral maker of art for art's sake.
 
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Jewell

Footballguy
This is super cool. Has she written books before or was she just so enthralled with putting the pieces of this puzzle together that it moved her to write her first book?

 

oso diablo

Footballguy
sounds very interesting. such a treat to see someone break some truly new ground.i looked her up on twitter, and thought this (from her twitter bio) was funny:

Once ate only Pop-Tarts for an entire month.
 

The_Man

Footballguy
A few years ago while reading Pale Fire, one of Vladimir Nabokov's novels, my sister randomly latched onto some odd threads and kept chasing them.

Long story short, she found that the threads were part of a puzzle Nabokov had left behind, and that they led across six decades and ran through his entire body of work, including Lolita.

And she wrote a book.

The book goes on sale March 6th and the initial reviews are very positive. The first two are from two of the three big industry reviewers, Booklist and Kirkus, and both have given it a starred review.

What's especially cool about this is that while no one solved the puzzles he left behind while he was alive, he predicted someone would:

“In fact I believe that one day a reappraiser will come and declare that, far from having been a frivolous firebird, I was a rigid moralist: kicking sin, cuffing stupidity, ridiculing the vulgar and cruel—and assigning sovereign power to tenderness, talent and pride.”
And part of the Kirkus review:
Vladimir Nabokov always claimed that art and politics don’t mix, but this new biography suggests his own art tells a different story.[snip]

Arriving in America and landing a teaching position, Nabokov focused on his writing and, as some saw it, forgot the past; he never spoke out against injustice, signed petitions, made speeches or even voted. [snip]

Yet, according to the author, in his own imaginative way, Nabokov was bearing witness to the horrors he knew. Drawing on new biographical material and her sharp critical senses, she reveals the tightly woven subtext of the novels [snip]

She suggests that Humbert Humbert, Lolita’s predatory narrator, is a Jew who has been destroyed by what he experienced during the war years. Hermann in Despair, the title character of Pnin and Kinbote in Pale Fire—all bear similar psychic wounds, victims of history who sometimes become villains. [snip]

...this is a brilliant examination that adds to the understanding of an inspiring and enigmatic life.
This is mostly just a proud brother post, but if you're interested in literature and especially if you're interested in Nabokov you should check it out. It's possible it will force a reappraisal of everything one of the great writers of the 20th century ever published, and change his image as an amoral maker of art for art's sake.
Nabokov is one of the great geniuses of our time and one of my favorite writers ever. I will be very interested to read this book.
 

Oliver Humanzee

Footballguy
Very, very exciting. I'm a huge fan of Nabokov and have spent far too many hours decoding his fictions' meta-puzzles. Looking forward to reading your sisters work.

 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
This is super cool. Has she written books before or was she just so enthralled with putting the pieces of this puzzle together that it moved her to write her first book?
No... it's her first book and she wasn't planning to do one at all. Her husband took a year off to do a fellowship at a big university and she was allowed to take classes for fun while they were there. She took a Nabokov seminar just because she knew he was a huge author and she didn't know much about him.Her book doesn't talk about the process of untangling things at all (which is too bad, I think it's a great story), but she noticed some random stuff in Pale Fire that made her wonder what he was trying to do. And he played games in the index of the book too (there's an entry that leads you in a 'see also' circle, but never resolves). Some of this stuff had been recognized as a mystery for a long time, but it didn't necessarily seem related at first.And then she basically got obsessed with figuring out what was really going on in the novels. So it was totally random.I remember visiting them during his fellowship and my bro-in-law told me that her research was amazing stuff -- she'd basically tell him on her way to the library what she was going to find in the New York Times during a specific date range in the past (based on something she'd read in one of his novels), and then she'd go and it would be there. Often on the front page or in an editorial. Eventually she was even digging into old FBI files and immigration documents using the FOIA and the further she went the more she found that tied everything together. (It really is such a cool story.)Anyhow, once she realized this was bigger than just Pale Fire and ran through Lolita too she had a pretty good idea that if she was right and could make the case persuasively it'd be worth writing about. She's lucky enough to know some people who put her in touch with an agent and they pitched the idea to publishers. I forget how many rejected her, but two smaller presses liked the idea and she went with the non-academic one since she was hoping to write something for the public.
 
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Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
Glad this is interesting to some folks! I've had the chance to talk to her for hours and hours about this during some road trips and found it damn interesting even though I hadn't read anything by him.

 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
The book goes on sale March 6th and the initial reviews are very positive. The first two are from two of the three big industry reviewers, Booklist and Kirkus, and both have given it a starred review.
The book website is more informative and interesting than Amazon.http://nabokovsecrethistory.com/
Yeah... there was way way too much to get it all in the book. Figuring out what to trim and exactly how to tell the story was hard for awhile IIRC.I think she's planning to add a lot more to the site. Hopefully including some of the Agatha Christie/Sherlock Holmes sleuthing stuff.
 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
The LA Review of Books didn't get aboard the train, but the Boston Globe was very generous:

Unlike fellow Russian writers, from Solzhenitsyn to Pasternak, who openly grappled with history in their work, Vladimir Nabokov has long been understood as above all a master of form, an almost impossibly gorgeous stylist, a linguistic virtuoso whose works glided past the wars, revolutions, and genocides that scarred 20th-century Europe. This perception, argues Andrea Pitzer, is simply wrong. Born into aristocratic wealth in Imperial Russia, Nabokov watched his family’s way of life implode, was exiled as a teenager, lost his father to political assassination, fled from Berlin with his Jewish wife and son in the 1930s, and just managed to get out of Vichy France before that country began sending Jewish refugees to the Nazis’ camps. Rather than averting his writerly gaze from these horrors, she says, Nabokov grappled with them in his own way: Indeed, as Pitzer points out when describing his youth, “the violence of the world and the search to escape it would soon become a theme in Nabokov’s life and a dominant feature of his work.” In “Lolita,” “Pnin,” “Pale Fire,” and other books, Nabokov was able to “tuck history into the seams of his story in such a way that it becomes visible only on a return trip.”Here, Pitzer takes readers on that trip, integrating Nabokov’s biography with a close reading of his works, asserting that amid some of the century’s most playful, glittering prose lurked the author’s “own private map, revealing the most profound losses of his life and the forgotten traumas of his age.” Pitzer sees “Lolita,” for instance, as not merely “a cruel book about cruelty,” as Martin Amis called it, but as an inventory of American anti-Semitism, “a shadow map with the coordinates of exclusion and bigotry.” Pitzer, like Nabokov, is a beautiful writer and gimlet-eyed observer, especially about her subject; even as an impoverished refugee living in America, she writes, “Nabokov was never shy about his sense of self.” Her attention to history’s moral components is refreshingly blunt: “The dead are not nameless,” she writes of the writers and others killed in Stalin’s Great Purge of the late 1930s. Inviting us to reconsider Nabokov, Pitzer also introduces herself as a writer worthy of attention.
 

pantagrapher

Footballguy
OK, this is pretty cool. Your sister is Andrea Pitzer? Well, I know her! She runs the @V_V_Nabokov account on twitter and over the years we've exchanged info on Nabokov (she being more of a resource for me than the other way around). She let me read an early version of SHoVN last year and she's coming to read in my neighborhood in May. Small world.

 
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Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
OK, this is pretty cool. You're sister is Andrea Pitzer? Well, I know her! She runs the @V_V_Nabokov account on twitter and over the years we've exchanged info on Nabokov (she being more of a resource for me than the other way around). She let me read an early version of SHoVN last year and she's coming to read in my neighborhood in May. Small world.
That's awesome! Such a small world.I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that if you know she's the voice of that Twitter account, you got an advance copy of the book and have swapped materials with her that your interest in VN goes well beyond most people's? I'm betting there's only a handful of people that could make all three of those claims...
 

pantagrapher

Footballguy
OK, this is pretty cool. You're sister is Andrea Pitzer? Well, I know her! She runs the @V_V_Nabokov account on twitter and over the years we've exchanged info on Nabokov (she being more of a resource for me than the other way around). She let me read an early version of SHoVN last year and she's coming to read in my neighborhood in May. Small world.
That's awesome! Such a small world.I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that if you know she's the voice of that Twitter account, you got an advance copy of the book and have swapped materials with her that your interest in VN goes well beyond most people's? I'm betting there's only a handful of people that could make all three of those claims...
I didn't get an advance copy in the traditional sense. But due to something she posted on FB (we're FB friends), I saw that the book was accidentally released on Amazon early and went ahead and ordered it. But I also have a review copy from Bookslut, so I'm going to let her sign the copy I actually bought and read and mark up the review one.I know early on she had an ambitious vision for the website and had asked if I could help with video editing and design. She wanted to make it really interactive and stuff. I'm not sure if she gave up on that or if it's still in the works. Anyway, my twitter name is the same as my FBG name, so if you ask "Guess who's on the fantasy football website I hang out on?" She'll know who pantagrapher is.And yes, Pale Fire similarly drove me to obsession. And that obsession spread to VN's other works. I've made a hobby of compiling references to single gloves and lost gloves in Nabokov. There are dozens of them.
 

Crazy Canuck

Footballguy
Will read. Naboklov is a writer I've always admired but never explored with any depth beyond a couple readings of Lolita. Maybe this will kickstart my own Nabokov obsession. :thumbup:

 

glumpy

breeze
Really cool. He's not an easy read to begin with and to catch the motivations behind the literature is fantastic. :cool:

 

Rohn Jambo

Footballguy
Very interesting. It is not surprising that a is a lot more besides "Vivian Darkbloom". Did she also check where the characters are in the different stories?

 

pantagrapher

Footballguy
'MacArtist said:
Seriously, Pant? That is awesome! You go! I should check his work out. Which book do you recommend I read first? And please tell me it is easier to get through than Infinite Jest. ;)
Don't get fancy. Start with Lolita.Pnin would be my second choice for one to start with, if the Lolita subject matter is off-putting.
 

Gawain

Footballguy
Very interesting. It is not surprising that a is a lot more besides "Vivian Darkbloom". Did she also check where the characters are in the different stories?
Heard the LA Times was peeved that she didn't devote a chapter to the most memorable Nabokov poops.
 

The_Man

Footballguy
I think Nabokov's memoir, "Speak, Memory" might be the greatest autobiography ever written.Here's the opening paragraph, which actually changed the way I look at life - if we're afraid of what happens after we die, shouldn't we be equally afraid of what happened before we were born?

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged-the same house, the same people- and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.
 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
Nabokov's memoir, "Speak, Memory"
One of the things that I had a hard time with when my sister first started talking about all this stuff was...If there were themes -- anti-semitism, the horrors that the Gulag and totalitarian governments visit on a person, the loss of a liberal Russia and her intelligentsia -- that were so important to Nabokov that they're threaded into the shadows of his writing for fifty years, how on earth could he have been willing to die without revealing what he'd done? He was famous for his word play and style, his complex plots and the arcane story structures, but there were these whole other aspects of his writing that no one ever recognized. There's no way I'd have been able to go to my grave and not point someone to that if they were important to me. Turns out that Nabokov wasn't able to do that either. In 'Speak Memory' and some of his other very late works he breadcrumbed those themes. Because of how he viewed literature and wanted people to work for a story he couldn't bring himself to just tell someone, but he did leave a lot of clues behind. In a few places in his autobiography it seems in hindsight like he's practically begging someone to find this stuff.There's a ton more of this stuff than is actually referenced in 'Secret History', but there were definitely places where she knew he was pointing her towards something and then she'd have to figure out what it was.
 
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The_Man

Footballguy
In 'Speak Memory' and some of his other very late works he breadcrumbed those themes. Because of how he viewed literature and wanted people to work for a story he couldn't bring himself to just tell someone, but he did leave a lot of clues behind. In a few places in his autobiography it seems in hindsight like he's practically begging someone to find this stuff.There's a ton more of this stuff than is actually referenced in 'Secret History', but there were definitely places where she knew he was pointing her towards something and then she'd have to figure out what it was.
Sounds like the plot for a movie: famous dead author leaves behind clues in his work that intrepid hot young author follows toward a huge treasure - and mortal danger!And also maybe his ghost shows up.
 

Drifter

Footballguy
This is super cool. Has she written books before or was she just so enthralled with putting the pieces of this puzzle together that it moved her to write her first book?
No... it's her first book and she wasn't planning to do one at all. Her husband took a year off to do a fellowship at a big university and she was allowed to take classes for fun while they were there. She took a Nabokov seminar just because she knew he was a huge author and she didn't know much about him.Her book doesn't talk about the process of untangling things at all (which is too bad, I think it's a great story), but she noticed some random stuff in Pale Fire that made her wonder what he was trying to do. And he played games in the index of the book too (there's an entry that leads you in a 'see also' circle, but never resolves). Some of this stuff had been recognized as a mystery for a long time, but it didn't necessarily seem related at first.And then she basically got obsessed with figuring out what was really going on in the novels. So it was totally random.I remember visiting them during his fellowship and my bro-in-law told me that her research was amazing stuff -- she'd basically tell him on her way to the library what she was going to find in the New York Times during a specific date range in the past (based on something she'd read in one of his novels), and then she'd go and it would be there. Often on the front page or in an editorial. Eventually she was even digging into old FBI files and immigration documents using the FOIA and the further she went the more she found that tied everything together. (It really is such a cool story.)Anyhow, once she realized this was bigger than just Pale Fire and ran through Lolita too she had a pretty good idea that if she was right and could make the case persuasively it'd be worth writing about. She's lucky enough to know some people who put her in touch with an agent and they pitched the idea to publishers. I forget how many rejected her, but two smaller presses liked the idea and she went with the non-academic one since she was hoping to write something for the public.
Curious - was the academic publisher Bloomsbury?
 

Crazy Canuck

Footballguy
I'm on chapter two.

It's very well written.

- The frame story of the meeting between Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn in Switzerland acts as the perfect introduction to her theme of Nabokov the secret political writer.

- The prose is very fluid and undemanding. While this may partly be a book of literary criticism, it's clearly written for the lay reader and not the academic stacks of graduate schools. It's a good read for anyone who's just read Lolita or one of his other novels.

I love it so far. :thumbup:

 

Crazy Canuck

Footballguy
I think Nabokov's memoir, "Speak, Memory" might be the greatest autobiography ever written.Here's the opening paragraph, which actually changed the way I look at life - if we're afraid of what happens after we die, shouldn't we be equally afraid of what happened before we were born?

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged-the same house, the same people- and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.
:o Jeezus, now I need to read this as well.
 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
This is super cool. Has she written books before or was she just so enthralled with putting the pieces of this puzzle together that it moved her to write her first book?
No... it's her first book and she wasn't planning to do one at all. Her husband took a year off to do a fellowship at a big university and she was allowed to take classes for fun while they were there. She took a Nabokov seminar just because she knew he was a huge author and she didn't know much about him.Her book doesn't talk about the process of untangling things at all (which is too bad, I think it's a great story), but she noticed some random stuff in Pale Fire that made her wonder what he was trying to do. And he played games in the index of the book too (there's an entry that leads you in a 'see also' circle, but never resolves). Some of this stuff had been recognized as a mystery for a long time, but it didn't necessarily seem related at first.And then she basically got obsessed with figuring out what was really going on in the novels. So it was totally random.I remember visiting them during his fellowship and my bro-in-law told me that her research was amazing stuff -- she'd basically tell him on her way to the library what she was going to find in the New York Times during a specific date range in the past (based on something she'd read in one of his novels), and then she'd go and it would be there. Often on the front page or in an editorial. Eventually she was even digging into old FBI files and immigration documents using the FOIA and the further she went the more she found that tied everything together. (It really is such a cool story.)Anyhow, once she realized this was bigger than just Pale Fire and ran through Lolita too she had a pretty good idea that if she was right and could make the case persuasively it'd be worth writing about. She's lucky enough to know some people who put her in touch with an agent and they pitched the idea to publishers. I forget how many rejected her, but two smaller presses liked the idea and she went with the non-academic one since she was hoping to write something for the public.
Curious - was the academic publisher Bloomsbury?
I'm not sure. It may have been Northwestern's press. But I wouldn't be the house on it.
 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
'Crazy Canuck said:
I'm on chapter two.It's very well written.- The frame story of the meeting between Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn in Switzerland acts as the perfect introduction to her theme of Nabokov the secret political writer. - The prose is very fluid and undemanding. While this may partly be a book of literary criticism, it's clearly written for the lay reader and not the academic stacks of graduate schools. It's a good read for anyone who's just read Lolita or one of his other novels. I love it so far. :thumbup:
Very cool that you like it! I actually struggled with the first four or five chapters because I knew some of the Russian history already and I wanted her to get to the stuff she'd been talking about for so long. Those early chapters also go at a breakneck speed since they're mostly background and there were times I wanted to know more about something. FWIW, chapters 10-13 are the heart of the book.
 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
Sounds like the plot for a movie: famous dead author leaves behind clues in his work that intrepid hot young author follows toward a huge treasure - and mortal danger!And also maybe his ghost shows up.
That is sort of what it was like. Minus the mortal danger. And the ghost.
 

Drifter

Footballguy
'wdcrob said:
This is super cool. Has she written books before or was she just so enthralled with putting the pieces of this puzzle together that it moved her to write her first book?
No... it's her first book and she wasn't planning to do one at all. Her husband took a year off to do a fellowship at a big university and she was allowed to take classes for fun while they were there. She took a Nabokov seminar just because she knew he was a huge author and she didn't know much about him.Her book doesn't talk about the process of untangling things at all (which is too bad, I think it's a great story), but she noticed some random stuff in Pale Fire that made her wonder what he was trying to do. And he played games in the index of the book too (there's an entry that leads you in a 'see also' circle, but never resolves). Some of this stuff had been recognized as a mystery for a long time, but it didn't necessarily seem related at first.And then she basically got obsessed with figuring out what was really going on in the novels. So it was totally random.I remember visiting them during his fellowship and my bro-in-law told me that her research was amazing stuff -- she'd basically tell him on her way to the library what she was going to find in the New York Times during a specific date range in the past (based on something she'd read in one of his novels), and then she'd go and it would be there. Often on the front page or in an editorial. Eventually she was even digging into old FBI files and immigration documents using the FOIA and the further she went the more she found that tied everything together. (It really is such a cool story.)Anyhow, once she realized this was bigger than just Pale Fire and ran through Lolita too she had a pretty good idea that if she was right and could make the case persuasively it'd be worth writing about. She's lucky enough to know some people who put her in touch with an agent and they pitched the idea to publishers. I forget how many rejected her, but two smaller presses liked the idea and she went with the non-academic one since she was hoping to write something for the public.
Curious - was the academic publisher Bloomsbury?
I'm not sure. It may have been Northwestern's press. But I wouldn't be the house on it.
I ask because my BIL is a Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury (although he was an acquisitions editor at Continuum when this was likely shopped) and this is so completely up his alley (PhD in Philosophy with an MA in Russian Studies) that I would think had he known about it he would have been drooling all over it.
 

Dinsy Ejotuz

Footballguy
The New Republic has nice things to say...

Given how much scholarship concerns Nabokov’s oeuvre, it is bold to contend, as Pitzer does in her introduction, that “a whole layer of meaning in his work has vanished.” That statement had me sharpening my critical daggers. But by the end, Pitzer managed to pretty much make her case, mostly by not belaboring the point, though also never deviating from it.
 

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