on July 3, 2000
In my review of Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, I say that "I am grateful to Boyd for his serious scholarship, his lively prose, and his close analysis of Nabokov's oeuvre." That comment applies wholeheartedly to this volume as well.
As a professor of literature at Cornell, Nabokov taught his students to focus on the details of literature. He taught them that the small details of a fictional world were far more important than broad generalizations about literary trends. One infamous midterm question asked the students to describe the wallpaper in a character's bedroom--a description that was only provided in a single line of the novel. Nabokov believed that good readers paid attention to details like this, and specific, startling detail was what made reality beautiful. I think Nabokov would have approved of Boyd's detailed, beautiful biography.
Boyd is a good Nabokovian. He sees the details of Nabokov's life and presents them to us vividly. He also analyzes the details of Nabokov's work, and provides us with lucid, and often surprising, readings and interpretations's of Nabokov's novels.
In The American Years Boyd reminds us why Nabokov was once hailed as perhaps the greatest writer of the latter half of the 20th Century. And after staying up all night to finish the enthralling story of Nabokov's life, I would have to say that Boyd is right.
Nabokov will certainly be remembered as one of the greats, and Boyd has given Nabokov the biography he deserves.
on December 21, 2001
Brian Boyd's scope and research in this book are just outstanding. I'm not usually that interested in biographies of writers, often the biographer does not relate their life to their literature in a way that interests me, but Nabokov is one of my favorite writers, so I thought I'd give this book a try. First you should note that it is a huge book that spans a large time frame, but you shouldn't be put off by the size, because Boyd's prose is very succinct and the chapters are manageable. It's clear to me that he appreciates Nabokov's works, as the best chapters are the ones detailing the periods of time when Nabokov is writing his works. There is so much great background information to be found here, that Nabokov wrote on index cards, the road trips that influenced Lolita, and Nabokov's relationship with his wife, Vera. This is what literary biographies should be like. I highly recommend this to any fans of Nabokov who want to learn more about his life and his writing.