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VLADIMIR NABOKOV

THE AMERICAN YEARS

Magnificent last volume of Boyd's critical biography of Vladimir Nabokov (Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, 1990). What comes through here even more strongly than in volume one is not only a new Nabokov, a masterly teacher-scholar-poet- critic-translator-scientist, but also a human being and novelist not to be confused with his own heroes such as Humbert Humbert or Van Veen any more than Shakespeare should be seen as Lear, Hamlet, or Macbeth. Nabokov, though, is widely seen as a supreme narcissist, even by sympathetic readers—but no longer. Boyd revises everything, all of our misreadings and received ideas, and especially those passed on by Andrew Field's apparently insensitive biographies and commentaries. Everywhere throughout this biography fearful literary folk find themselves in the presence of a self-assured man of simple warmth and friendliness, full of fun and understanding, kindness and courtesy, who appreciates ``the intelligent and observant people who bring me fruit and wine, or come to repair radiators and radios.'' Boyd also takes on the Edmund Wilson/Nabokov feud over Nabokov's 13- year, four-volume work on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin—and Wilson fares badly. As Nabokov rises from destitution to world fame, his each work is taken apart here at great length, much as Nabokov would dissect butterfly genitalia, to get at its aesthetic bliss. A small woman, Vera Nabokov often comes through as seen through Vladimir's eye (he was besotted with his wife to his last breath) as she grapples with the herculean labors of typing up his longhand index cards and keeping up with his colossal business needs in a hydra-growth of languages and countries. After Lolita, contracts flood in and the author finds himself working on five books while composing a sixth in his head. What this biography will do for Nabokov can only be guessed. But for the reader it will awaken a great block of humanity. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-691-06797-X

Page Count: 735

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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