This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography offers a portrait of Vera Nabokov, the woman who stood at the center of the life and work of the controversial author of Lolita, drawing on Vladimir's letters, Vera's diaries, and family correspondence.
[Schiff's] impressive research is on par with the exquisite writing style with which she relates the details of the Nabokovs' lives ... Insights into the character of 'V.N.,' as Vera lovingly called her husband, are included, but center stage in this riveting portrait belongs to Vera, whose genius equaled her husband's but who tenaciously embraced what she saw as her role in life, to 'help him.'
Although Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) is almost unavoidably indebted to Brian Boyd's masterful two-volume biography of Nabokov...Ms. Schiff has succeeded in creating an elegantly nuanced portrait of the artist's wife, showing us just how pivotal Nabokov's marriage was to his hermetic existence and how it indelibly shaped his work. She effortlessly conjures up the disparate worlds the couple inhabited ... The one large flaw of this book is its reluctance to grapple with Nabokov's literary achievement, depriving the lay reader of even a cursory appreciation of his books and the Nabokov fan of a serious appraisal of his work. In fact the only time Ms. Schiff discusses specific novels in detail is when she wants to point out autobiographical motifs or demonstrate the palpable consequences that a book (most notably Lolita) had on the couple's lives ... Vera's tenacious negotiation of her husband's publishing contracts and her imperious manner with strangers, had the effect, Ms. Schiff points out, of making this 'shy, overworked, morbidly private, highly principled woman' appear 'prickly, humorless, aloof and intransigent.' It also made her a formidable challenge for a biographer—a challenge that Ms. Schiff, with this book, has most persuasively met.
Thickly footnoted, illustrated with a wide variety of photographs, and written with an eye toward Nabokov's writing as well as his wife, Schiff's book paints a comprehensive picture of one of literature's more complex couples. She employs interviews with their son, grocery lists, diaries, and correspondence in her work to illustrate the extent of the Nabokovs' impact on one another ... Schiff's depiction reveals an unrivaled intertwining of personalities.