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The American Years

by Brian Boyd

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-691-06797-X
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

 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.)