• The cover of the book Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)

    Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)

    Stacy Schiff won a Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Nabokov’s fiercely loyal wife Véra, partly because her subject is so brilliant and fascinating, and partly because Schiff, the author of Cleopatra: A Life and the recent The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, is such a skilled writer. Her work here is both a scholarly and a literary achievement, showing a completely different side to the Nabokov mythology than previously seen. Her Véra is a tough, intelligent counterpart to her famous husband. Nabokov once said, “Without my wife, I wouldn’t have written a single novel.” And Schiff, obviously, wouldn’t have written her great biography. We can thank Véra for both.

     
  • The cover of the book Letters to Véra

    Letters to Véra

    If, for whatever reason, Schiff’s excellent book doesn’t sell you on the love between Vladimir and Véra, then let this wonderful companion volume settle the dispute. Edited by Olga Voronina and (what do you know?) Brian Boyd, Letters to Véra unambiguously depicts the rare connection between the two. At one point, Vladimir asks his wife, whom he sometimes refers to as “my enchantment,” to “focus and try to tell me which two pictures are hanging in my room” as “an experiment in telepathy.” He imagined that through sheer mental communication over a great distance, Véra could tell him the answer to his question. Even if this is an absurd idea, the very fact that Nabokov thought about this enough to write it to her shows just how strong their bond was.

     
  • The cover of the book Speak, Memory

    Speak, Memory

    And now, from the man himself: Speak, Memory is Nabokov’s autobiography, but this being Nabokov, it’s not exactly a straightforward literary experience. Filled with detailed descriptions of his creative developments, Speak, Memory is presented as a series of discursive episodes, roving through his family history, his love of butterflies, his love of Véra, and his years in America. There’s even a chess problem in there. Some of it’s impressionistic, some of it likely fictional, but as rendered in Nabokov’s inimitable stylistic verve, this memoir is as playful and enriching as anything the great master wrote.