Publishers Weekly Review : The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov: A Novel by Paul Russell

As a writer of no prestige, I try to pick up anything that I can get my grubby little hands on. When a friend got an editing job over at Publishers Weekly, she asked if I would review books for her. Nothing fancy–more like freelance and definitely NOT too literary. I’m sure most of the writers I have reviewed were pretty unhappy with their reviews but I actually did enjoy one book that was sent my way: The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov. It was a quick and a pleasurable read. Also, it toed the line between mass market appeal and literary fiction. Below, is my original review without edits from PW, as well as the published review and the Amazon page where the review was blurbed.

Publishers Weekly Review | Amazon


In this meticulously researched novel, Paul Russell imagines the detailed life of the younger and now forgotten Nabokov–Sergey. Always residing in the shadow of his older and more famous brother, Sergey finds himself in Berlin in 1943 working for the Propaganda Ministry [23]. Feeling that he has been “under surveillance for some time” [24], he takes to hastily penning his life’s story. Starting at the moment of birth in Pre-Revolutionary Russia, Sergey claims that his parents viewed him as a pale comparison of their first child and was “cursed with a stutter that only grew worse as [he] matured” [11]. Detailing his early life in Saint Petersburg, his narrative soon turns to the aspect of Sergey’s life that Russell is most interested in. Throughout Sergey Nabokov, Russell delves into the life of a homosexual man living in uncertain times [41, 370]. The novel is sprinkled with characters that any astute reader would recognize. Russell puts Sergey in contact with such personages as Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Jean Cocteau. His journey throughout the first half of the Twentieth century is both pleasurable and heart-breaking. Sergey’s grapples with his sexual identity during an uncertain time and his adventures and misadventures in the salons and clubs of pre-war Europe [158, 189] are drawn with detail and humanity. With compelling characters and steady prose, the reader will breeze through this enjoyable account of the other Nabokov. With never a dull moment, Russell has a crafted an account the literary fan will no doubt relish in.
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