"Russell has succeeded in the impressive feat of making vivid and compelling the story of a vulnerable hanger-on, a person Vladimir Nabokov described as a shadow in the background.”"
Historical Novel Society
"There's a lot of great stuff in this book, and it certainly made me want to know more about the man, the time in which he lived, and more about his famous brother's books."
Glorified Love Letters
"What struck me most about this work was the lavish, beautiful prose. I’ve read few modern novels that can compare. The voice Paul Russell captures is both lush and believable. The detail in the scenes he paints is remarkable."
"Horrible memories are sometimes pushed far to the side, for the best. The Unreal Life of Sergey Nobokov seeks to tell a story surrounding famed author Vladimir Nobokov's forgotten gay brother, Sergey. Chronicling the story of Sergey through Czarist Russia and their departure from their home land towards England. A remarkable story that explores the relationship of the brothers that shows much research all the way toward Sergey's fate, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nobokov is well worth considering for literary fiction collections."
Michael J. Carson
"The language used by the author helps keep the reader in the time period, along with succeeding at painting a picture of what life was like for a homosexual person at the time....The one characteristic of this book that most stands out for me, in an already extraordinary read, is the framing of the story....Absolutely engrossing, the author has put together the story of a shy, endearing, vulnerable, unforgettable young man, valiantly facing circumstances that would have destroyed a lesser soul. Kudos, Mr. Russell, for a brilliant performance. Highly recommended."
"Russell’s just-released novel The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov ... brilliantly re-creat[es] the many worlds in which the historical Sergey moved: pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, Cambridge University, the gay demimonde of expatriate Paris, a fairy-tale castle in the Austrian Alps, war-torn Berlin."
"A brilliant imagining of the life of a marginal son of the Russian liberal elite washed away in the Bolshevik revolution and then enmeshed in the Third Reich."
Stephen Murray, epinions
"Paul Russell's The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov: A Novel builds upon those dazzling days between the overthrow of the Russian Tsar and the rise of the Third Reich. Through the perspective of the real, but little-known Sergey Nabokov, younger brother of Lolita's creator, Vladimir Nabokov, Russell brings his readers on a wild romp through the gay and artistic cliques that were changing the face of the art and literary worlds in the 1920s and 30s."
The title of Paul Russell’s splendid new novel, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, hints at its contents....The Unreal Life bears a resemblance to Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris.” Russell solves a problem that defeated Allen. In Midnight in Paris,” Gertrude Stein’s speech lacks the head-scratching repetitions that coil through her books. Russell, though, captures the Stein style beautifully, as in this reply to a help-me letter from Sergey, sent from Berlin late in the war: Miss Stein knows she knew you but no longer knows how she knew nor when nor where nor why she knew you when she knew you. Nonetheless she wishes you the very best.”"
The Washington Post Bookworld
"A story that will make you laugh and smile then breaks your heart, this is a rich tapestry of the human condition. Highly recommended."Library Journal
"Sergey’s struggles with his sexuality, as well as his adventures and misadventures in the salons and clubs of pre-war Europe, are drawn with humanity. With compelling characters and steady prose, the reader will breeze through this pleasurable, heart-breaking account of the other Nabokov."
"The subtle, dark wit that makes The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov a pleasure to read. As WWII begins and then drags on, several characters take shelter in cities outside Berlin. One character goes so far as to say, "My wife and daughter are perfectly safe, staying with her parents in Dresden, which I am told presents no military or industrial targets whatsoever for the RAF." With rare perfect timing, Russell allows his characters to make similar comments completely unaware of history's hammer, poised and ready to slam down."
"Russell’s prose, engagingly evocative of the period in which the story is set, is studded with gems of dark wit that add quirky grace to a masterful novel."
South Florida Gay News
"Russell’s stellar research and inventiveness make this obscure figure, an unforgettable gay hero."
"The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov displays linguistic artistry through portraying ruin in all its formsthe scattering of family ties, the loss of one’s country, and the consequences of war, death, addiction and forbidden love. It’s a life story that does, in fact, seem unreal,” and is made all the more remarkable for its veracity. Kudos to writer Paul Russell for presenting the historical persona of the gay Nabokov” in a fictional format that succeeds at drawing the reader into Sergey’s improbably true life."
In literary heaven, where Vladimir Nabokov now resides, he wouldn't approve of this convincing dream evocation of the life of his gay brother, but the novel is a sidelong tribute to Nabokovtender, sad, and moving, with touches of the Maestro's elegance.”
Herbert Gold, author of Not Dead Yet, and Fathers
Paul Russell has been so skillful and so fond in the creation of this Unreal Life that his readers will unavoidably identify it with the real one which ended in 1943. Now it is their turn to sift what is real from what is imagined, mine only to applaud the author of every life, unreal and otherwise, in this inescapable construction dedicated to that ghost,’ a voice-over of Sergey, the lost Nabokov, that maintains us all in a sort of double time-machine compelling us to follow the consecrated Nabokovs and a host of others through the last ecstasies of gay Europe.”
Richard Howard, author of Paper Trail and Without Saying
"An extraordinary novel, tender, fierce, and graceful, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is a tale of place and displacement, of shadows and siblings and countries shaken by changeand sustained, as the reader will be, by the quiet heroism of art. A tour de force."
Brenda Wineapple, award-winning author of WHITE HEAT: THE FRIENDSHIP OF EMILY DICKINSON AND THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON
"'Beauty plus pity," Vladimir Nabokov’s famous definition of art, perfectly describes this moving, artful novel. Intimate and epic, gorgeously written, divinely detailed, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is an ingenious hybrid of a book, powerful, troubling, exciting."
Sigrid Nunez, author of A Feather on the Breath of God
"Paul Russell's sublime novel The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is an astonishing work of art. In lucid prose, Russell retells the story of Nabokov's gay brother, allowing us a clear window into an overlooked life and an underwritten aspect of history. This mesmerizing novel not only recreates the shifting, unstable epoch of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, but reimagines Sergey's persona, his loves and fate with great authenticity and imagination. It's a heartbreaking novel that everyone should read."
Alistair McCartney, author of The End of the World Book
"In this melancholy, graceful novel, Paul Russell has captured a vanished time and people, and even the clarity and formality of mid-20th century émigré prose. Despite loss and alienation dating almost from birth, Russell’s Sergey emerges as the more humane Nabokov brother, and you cheer for his brief happiness and the love he found before history closed in."
Regina Marler, author of Bloomsbury Pie
"It takes an accomplished novelist to bring to glittering life a lost and foreign world. Paul Russell achieves this feat with disarming ease in The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, a daring, ambitious, playful, intelligent, and deeply affecting novel. Russell lavished upon Vladimir Nabokov's unheralded and doomed younger brother Sergey the divine attention, sympathy and patience we all wish to receive from our creator. While compulsively reading this book, I felt an occasional twinge of envy, and I thought that it must have been as exciting to write as it is to read."
Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day
"Always readable and compelling, Paul Russell’s The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is a brilliant impersonation, literary prestidigitation of a higher order, and in the end, the unexpected, unique, and solidly mature work we were awaiting from this already accomplished author."
Felice Picano, author of True Stories:Portraits From My Past
"The historical life of Sergey Nabokov was altogether real and all too short. But there are forms of history that only fiction can suggest, and this subtle novel movingly brings back from the shadows a rich, lost life."
Michael Wood, author of The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction and Yeats and Violence
"The only thing 'unreal' about this novel is the skill it took to write it. Paul Russell exhibits uncanny knowledge of the period and its people. He is an unfailing guide through St. Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin, dope dens, literary salons, drag ba...