Praise for The Secret History

"A penetrating analysis certain to compel a major reassessment of the Nabokov canon."
— starred review, Booklist

"...a brilliant examination that adds to the understanding of an inspiring and enigmatic life."
— starred review, Kirkus

"Highly recommended for all Nabokov fans..."
— starred review, Library Journal

"Certainly the most remarkable and insightful book on Vladimir Nabokov in many years."
— Michael Maar, author of Speak, Nabokov and The Two Lolitas

"... an intriguing and provocative new take on one of the giants of modern American letters."
— Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion: 1914-1918 and other books

"... a feat of fascinating literary detective work ..."
— Christopher Goffard, author of You Will See Fire and Snitch Jacket

"A wide-ranging introduction to Nabokov's life and work as well as a game-changer for those readers who thought they knew his writing cold."
— Steven Belletto, author of No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives (Oxford U. Press)

The New York Review of Books looks at The Secret History

Nabokov had a complicated relationship with his critics, not least Edmund Wilson, whose 1965 review of Eugene Onegin in The New York Review of Books put a stake through the heart of their friendship. Here’s Wilson’s opening line:

This production, though in certain ways valuable, is something of a disappointment; and the reviewer, though a personal friend of Mr. Nabokov—for whom he feels a warm affection sometimes chilled by exasperation—and an admirer of much of his work, does not propose to mask his disappointment.

Yesterday, I had my own experience being reviewed in the NYRB. University College London professor Mark Ford had the honor of doing the carving up, in a group review. It’s out from behind the paywall now, so you can read it yourself, but I’ll do a quick survey and include a quote or two from it here.

Ford didn’t open with Wilson’s directness, starting instead with a summary of Nabokov’s life before diving into my book. He noted a few of the echoes between Nabokov’s younger brother, Sergei, and Pale Fire narrator Charles Kinbote high in the piece, which I was glad to see, because The Secret History is the first real exploration of that link, and it’s an important part of the book.

Ford had some nice things to say, though he wasn’t a fan of my style. He liked the use of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Soviet dissident and Gulag survivor, in counterpoint to Nabokov as the framework of the narrative. He also praised my “exemplary primary research,” which, he suggests, “forces one to consider several fascinating quandaries presented by Lolita and Pale Fire.”

At some point, if I get just a little bigger pool to draw from, I’ll do a quantitative analysis of reviews of The Secret History, to see what that might offer in some larger sense about book reviews and reviewers. For now, I’m resisting posting more of the review here for fear of disappearing down a rabbit hole of quote and response that would surely be more boring than the unbelievably dull but angry quibbles that Wilson and Nabokov had over the finest points of Eugene Onegin.

Compared to the insults lobbed between Wilson and Nabokov, Mark Ford’s praise is generous and his criticism mild enough. It’s an honor to have the book featured in a place that will allow some of the questions I’ve raised—about Sergei Nabokov and Charles Kinbote, about anti-Semitism and Humbert Humbert—to be on the record as part of a conversation about Nabokov’s writing and the history that helped make it.

If you’re so inclined, you can spend your lunch hour reading the NYRB review for yourself. And here are the other books featured later in the piece—The Tragedy of Mister MornSelected PoemsStalking Nabokov—all of which are worth some time, particularly Mister Morn, if you’re interested in Nabokov’s early writing or Revolutionary Russia.

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