The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship

Pantheon. Dec. 2016. 224p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781101870228. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101870235. LIT
OrangeReviewStarThe almost legendary tale of Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson's very public literary debate is told with great sympathy and skill by Beam (columnist, The Boston Globe; American Crucifixion). From this feud, ostensibly begun over Nabokov's translation of Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, he has fashioned a kind of Euripidean tragedy on the self-destructive power of the ego. On one level it is a story of two titans of modern American literature coming to verbal blows over vocabulary and syntax, but more importantly, and more universally, it is the story of a generous friendship collapsing under the weight of reputation and the desperate need to have the final say. Beam is a natural storyteller and lucid scholar. The intellectual back-and-forth (mostly glimpsed through letters and diary entries) is fascinating—who would ever imagine that the incorrect use of the past participle could evoke such passion? And yet, the account of these two apparent geniuses devolving into bickering schoolchildren is endlessly readable and bittersweetly comic.
VERDICT An outstanding and entertaining book that could have surprising appeal beyond its intended literary audience. Readers who give it a chance will soon find themselves unable to put it down. [See Prepub Alert, 6/6/16.]
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