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124 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Woman Behind the Man
"Vera was a pale blonde when I met her, but it didn't take me long to turn her hair white."
The above was taken from one of Nabokov's own journal entries and, although it may seem humorous, it is no doubt true. Pulitzer-Prize winner, Stacy Schiff, suggests, even in the title of her book, that Véra Nabokov was a woman who was only capable of being...
Published on October 1, 2000

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The text is tiny
I read Stacy's Cleopatra and fell in love with her witty writing style. But, while the subject is interesting, I had trouble staying engaged. Still, I will read other books by this author. She is a master of recounting history in a way that reads like a fast-paced drama.
Published 18 months ago by A. Cunningham


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124 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Woman Behind the Man, October 1, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (Paperback)
"Vera was a pale blonde when I met her, but it didn't take me long to turn her hair white."
The above was taken from one of Nabokov's own journal entries and, although it may seem humorous, it is no doubt true. Pulitzer-Prize winner, Stacy Schiff, suggests, even in the title of her book, that Véra Nabokov was a woman who was only capable of being known as Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov. Her relationship with her famed husband, no matter what its course, was the defining factor of her life. And Véra would have it no other way.
Véra Nabokov has been described as Vladimir Nabokov's "disciple, bodyguard, secretary-protector, handmaiden, buffer, quotation-finder, groupie, advance man, nursemaid and courtier." She is, not unjustly, celebrated as being the ultimate Woman Behind the Man.
Véra graduated from the Sorbonne as a master of modern languages, but, sadly, she did not keep copies of her own work as she did her husband's. In fact, she probably would have denied that her own work was worth keeping, although everything leads us to believe otherwise.
In addition to transcribing, typing and smoothing Valdimir's prose while it was still "warm and wet," Véra cut book pages, played chauffeur, translated, negotiated contracts and did the many practical things her famous husband disdained. This remarkable woman even made sure that the butterflies he collected died with the least amount of suffering.
A precocious child who read her first newspaper at the age of three, Véra was born into a middle-class Jewish family at the beginning of the twentieth-century in Czarist St. Petersburg. In 1921, with the advance of communism, her family settled in Berlin. It was there that she met the dapper and non-Jewish Vladimir. Their marriage would last fifty-two years and be described as an intensely symbiotic coupling.
Although Vladimir traveled and conducted several affairs, Véra supported him throughout, struggling to raise their son amidst the Nazism that was beginning to fester in Berlin. Blaming herself for her husband's infidelity, Véra managed to rejuvenate her marriage and the couple moved again--this time to New York City--where Véra typed Valdimir's manuscripts in bed while recovering from pneumonia. Forever believing in her husband's creative instincts, Véra stood by his art even when debt threatened to overtake them. It was she who intervened on the several occasions when Vladimir attempted to burn his manuscript of Lolita.
Véra Nabokov's tombstone bears the epithet, "Wife, Muse and Agent," and Nabokov knew the immensity of the debt he owed her. Late in life, he even refused to capture a rare butterfly he encountered in a mountain park for the sole reason that Véra was no longer at his side. Like her husband, Véra had highly developed aesthetic tastes and the two enjoyed a "tender telepathy." Often described as "synesthetes," the couple would have debates about "the color of Monday, the taste of E-flat." It is certainly without exaggeration that Nabokov wrote to Véra, "I need you, my fairy tale. For you are the only person I can talk to--about the hue of a cloud, about the singing of a thought, and about the fact that when I went out to work today and looked at each sunflower in the face, they all smiled back at me with their seeds."
Although many feel the Véra should have been encouraged to develop her own considerable talents, it can be argued that she did, and that her greatest talent was that of wife and helpmate. It is certainly one she choose freely and without rancor. The fact that her husband was fortunate, indeed, cannot be denied.
Véra is a book rich in detail, analysis and affection. Like all couples and all marriages, the Nabokovs were unique and they were special. To know one, was to glimpse the other, for with the passing of years, neither was wholly himself or herself. There are those who might not have understood Véra Nabokov's choices and might not have agreed with them, but they are the ones who have never known the ecstasy of a truly close relationship. Véra Nabokov was a most fascinating woman, one that made her own choices in life and lived them most happily. We can only admire her greatly.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GORGEOUSLY WRITTEN AND BRILLIANTLY PUT TOGETHER, December 14, 1999
By A Customer
This was a biography I found spellbinding as much for the force of its story as for the beauty of its language. There are hidden pleasures here as there are in Nabokov; each one makes you feel that a first-rate biographical intelligence is at work. And I can't say I've ever read a better portrait of Nabokov, anywhere. None of his chroniclers write with anything close to Schiff's style or sensitivity. Not to mention her insight, which is remarkable.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome job on a seemingly impossible task, April 18, 1999
By A Customer
This is the book Nabokov fans have been waiting for, but suspected would never (COULD never) be written. From the opening sentences it's clear that Schiff has the stuff equal to her daunting task--to get behind the artfully constructed public face of two of the most brilliant, but most private, people ever to enter the public eye. Schiff does it with awesome research and a, by turns, witty, moving, penetrating, sometimes acerbic, but always admiring prose. The portrait of Vera, you feel, is definitive, but so, too, is the portrait of Vladimir--a portrait that points up the flaws and gaps in earlier depictions, like that of the dutifully plonking Boyd biographies with their laughable "interpretation" of Pale Fire. That Schiff is delineating the dynamic of a highly unique marriage (not just the two complex personalities that made up that marriage) makes her accomplishment seem all the more miraculous. Finally, Schiff's method is ultimately Nabovian in that she gives us a portrait of the master without peering at him directly: the book is Vladimir reflected in Vera's pale fire--which, as it turns out, is the best way to see him whole. Or, rather, to see them BOTH whole. After reading this book, it is impossible to speak of either Vladimir, or Vera, as a single entity, ever again.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning look into the intricacies of marriage, October 10, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (Paperback)
Even without the Pulitzer Prize, which this book won for Biography, Schiff's scrupulously written paean to marriage--well, to one complex marriage in particular--would stand out as an extraordinary achievement. Including vivid writing that reminds one of the best fiction, and strong research that follows the trajectory of two strong-willed "characters," Vera and Vladimir, this is a work of Richard Ellmann-like quality, and it will be remembered.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The talented woman in the background, September 8, 2002
By 
A reader (Washington state) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (Paperback)
Although I would advise a Nabokov fan to read "Speak Memory" and Brian Boyd's biography first, I definitely recommend this biography of the devoted Véra. She was an extremely strong-willed and talented woman. The fact that she didn't try to become an author in her own right and even downplayed her contributions to Vladimir's work will baffle some readers. These same readers (especially females), many of whom believe the secret to happiness is in "self-expression," will decide that Véra paid an exorbitant price for her very happy marriage.
A quibble: most of this book is about Véra and Vladimir after 1940. One of the many interesting things about Nabokov was that he had been a leading Russian émigré writer years before he arrived in America (with Véra's help, of course). And this part of the story is not developed as fully as the years after the Nabokovs arrived in America. Perhaps this book, and the many Nabokov biographies, will have be re-written some day by an author who moves as easily through the Russian and English languages as Nabokov did himself.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, subtle, perceptive, and elegantly written, August 6, 1999
By 
Linda H. Davis "Linda" (Harvard, MA, United States) - See all my reviews
Literary biography rarely gets as good as this: a witty, subtle, perceptive, and elegantly written portrait. Wonderfully researched, Vera is also the product of a first-rate mind. How lucky Vera Nabokov is to draw Stacy Schiff as her biographer. I am simply in awe.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all Nabokov fans, May 18, 2000
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This review is from: Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (Paperback)
I agree with all the praise given by my fellow amazon readers -- you learn as much about Nabokov by reading about his wife as you do by reading about him (which you can do in his excellent autobiographical novel Speak, Memory). My only small quibble is that the first half was a tad slow moving -- things definitely picked up once they arrived in the United States, especially the Cornell years. Having just read this book back to back with Nora (the biography of James Joyce's wife), I have to admit that as much as I enjoyed this book, I found Nora more gripping overall. Still, I would encourage anyone who loves Nabokov to read this book, even if you have to skip some of the denser parts. Hats off to Schiff who certainly did her research and presents everything you could ever want to know about Nabokov but were afraid to ask.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Véra & Vladimir & Vladimir & Véra, by fermed, May 12, 2000
By 
Fernando Melendez "fermed" (San Diego, California USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (Paperback)
It would be impossible to write the biography of Véra alone without the biography of V. Nabokov being integrally attached to it: at some profound level they were one and the same entity. Véra and Vladimir were, in the end, each other's inventions: each one held up a peculiarly distorted mirror in which the other's reflection appeared to the world. This biography makes a stupendous effort to disentangle these images from one another, but in the end the knot won't be loosened: they are joined not at the hip, but at the soul. The biography is absolutely splendid: intricate, deep, minutious in its details, brilliantly rendered, subtle, fast paced, and wholly satisfying in its results. That the book never does separate the yin from the yang is because of the nature of the creatures it addresses: one contains the other, just as surely as the other contains the one.
Véra was the ultimate feminist while at the same time the self effacing servant of her genius husband. Did her (different) talents rank up there with his? Most probably, although she would deny this. She collected his words indiscriminantly, as if each phrase had great intrinsic value; every little scrap of paper became a motive for her archival attention and care. Nabokov depended on Véra for all practical things that life tossed his way (he was the typical absentminded professor) with the exception of the lovely young women who intercepted his bumbling march through this world. For these, and for a deeply threatening love affair he had during their 12th year of marriage, Véra demonstrated forbearance, but never tolerance.
In this long and magnificent biography Stacy Shiff manages to transcent the historical paraphernalia of the Nabokov's tumultuous lives to reveal the elusive characterology and spirituality of this very odd couple. She deftly studies them directly and as reflections of each other, as ghosts and mirages as well as the flesh and bood beings who lived and grew and aged and died. The reader receives more than just an exquisitly crafted portrait-history of Véra and Vladimir; a bit of their soul is imparted also. Worth having, worth reading.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything you wanted to know about the "VN's" and then some, September 29, 1999
By A Customer
Very well written and researched account of the lives of Vera Slonim Nabokov and her husband Vladimir. The author goes to excruciating lengths to show the reader that without a partner like Vera to serve as his secretary, teaching assistant, typist, translator, proofreader, editor, manager, marketing agent, social coordinator, housekeeper, etc., etc., the eccentric Vladimir would have probably floundered in disorganization, vanity, and so forth, and, would not have attained the fabulous literary success he did. Wish Schiff's editor(s) could have helped her trim a few examples of Vera's seemingly limitless ability to serve her husband (and her own interests, as well), which become redundant, and exhausting to read about.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vera, November 19, 2010
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This review is from: Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (Paperback)
Having had Vladmir Nabokov for Russian Literature at Cornell University I was pleasantly pleased with this book. Everything I experienced in this class from Vera to Nabokov was exactly as I remember it. The pictures were reminiscent of seeing Vera sitting beside Nabokov in the classroom everyday while he conducted our class. I highly recommend this book for those who want a deeper look into the life of Vladimir Nabokov and the person who cared for him, directed him, and, in my opinion, was the inspiration and the success behind his books and his life.
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Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff (Paperback - April 4, 2000)
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