I offer my great thanks to Max u for the gift card that allowed me to read this book.
The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell is a very interesting book, in segments a great work of art. It is based on the life of tne younger brother of Vladimer Nabokov. To me the most intriguing parts of the novel were the settings and the historical personages we meet, especially the sections set in Paris in the artistic Russian emigre community. Sergey was gay and as depicted here, so were many of the cultural and ecomonic elite of old Russia. One of Sergey's uncles was an aggressive near pedophile with an anal fixation who used his position of power to molest Sergey and any of the servants he fancied. We are in a time when servants are transition from household serfs to employees and the uncle feels it is his sexual privilege to bully servants boys into sodomy. It looks like the same thing happened to Sergey. Russell is such a good writer that the uncle almost comes across as a sympathetic character. His family view this just as a "quirk". The sections in old Saint Petersburg were magnificent. I felt I was there and maybe I kind of wished I was.
The Nabokov family prior to the Russian revolution was very rich and the novel focuses a lot on the difficulties Sergey and his famous brother had adjusting to the loss of wealth. In Paris we see some ex-aristocrats were smart enough to have moved a lot of their wealth out of Russia before the revolution. Many had to adjust to being without mansions, servants, and elegant meals. We meet a lot of celebrity characters in the Russian community in Paris. The Bousweau family was very well connected in this community and I admit I was thrilled by the mention of Ruffington Boussweau's friend and traveling companion, Prince Yousapoff.
The novel flashes back and forth in time from Russian in the 1910s, to Paris in the 20th to Berlin in 1943. While in Germany Sergey had to live in fear of the gestapo because he was gay. There are small touches that make each era seem very real.
If there is a weakness in this novel, it is maybe in the minor characters, the love interestes of Sergey, are not that well developed. The sex is quick and furtive. Homosexuality is seen by most of the era as a disease.
Most of the sex acts are fast handjobs through clothing. Anal sex is more for domination than pleasure, especially in the school sections in Russia.
Overall I highly enjoyed this novel. The historical research, I Googled a lot of the names of Russians in Paris, is meticulous and marvelously deployed.
For now the Kindle edition of this book is for sale for $1.95, marked down from $12.95
See Paul-Russell.org for biographical data and information on Russell's other books.