Stalking Nabokov: Selected Essays
by Brian Boyd
Columbia University Press (Footprint Books), $51.95 hb, 360 pp, 9780231158565
We are all exiles. In time, if not in space, we are inevitably parted from what is most familiar and dear to us. ‘Loss’ is stamped in all our passports.
Vladimir Nabokov understood exile better than anyone. Heir to a wealthy landowning family in Imperial Russia, he escaped the communist revolution of 1917 to a life of genteel poverty in a Berlin boarding house. Eking out a living as a tennis and language tutor, he built a reputation by the 1930s as one of the best Russian writers alive. With his Jewish wife, Vera, Nabokov fled from Germany to France, and then to the United States. His father, a prominent liberal, was shot by a right-wing assassin in 1922. His gay brother, Sergey, was murdered in a concentration camp in 1945.