Masterly, inspiring first volume of a two-volume critical life of Nabokov that lays open the heart and art of a writer as...

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VLADIMIR NABOKOV: The Russian Years

Masterly, inspiring first volume of a two-volume critical life of Nabokov that lays open the heart and art of a writer as have few biographies since Richard Ellmann's James Joyce. (Volume two, The American Years, is set for 1991.) Many think Nabokov a snobbish word-spinner who coldshouldered philistine vulgarity while seeking bloodwamith in sterile ""aesthetic bliss."" Boyd grinds this received image to powder and, at least here, shows us a young Nabokov easy to love, admire, and stand in amazement of. After his famed feud with his biographer Andrew Field, Nabokov may now bask comfortably in the sunshine of his luck at having Boyd digging afresh at his works and days. During ten years of research, Boyd was also given access to fresh archival material. Enlivening as well is having the voice of Nabokov--from his letters, his autobiography Speak, Memory, and other sources--weave through this biography almost as if Nabokov himself were patterning its flow of detail. Boyd spends much space on Nabokov's magnificent father, V.D. Nabokov, a famed, vastly wealthy criminologist, politician of patrician birth, editor, and writer whose news-paper articles about conditions in prerevolutionary Russia stirred the humanity in all readers. He was also trilingual, a boxer and fencer, a gatherer of butterflies, and kept a keen eye on his son's growth as a poet from childhood on. Young Nabokov's life in St. Petersburg was princely; but the revolution drove the lessened Nabokovs to Paris and life-long exile. Nabokov was a sexy lad, trim on the tennis court and an active seducer. Boyd shows how his fundamental optimism neatly counterweighted his wife Vera's disposition to the negative while she selflessly acted as the writer's all-purpose Ariel. Equally rich is Boyd's unfolding of the poet-novelist's art work by work, the testing of his metaphysic. At book's end, Hitler takes France and the Nabokovs sail for America, with Vladimir about to to exiled into the English language. A benchmark of biographical excellence.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0691024707

Page Count: -

Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1990