Books by Monika Zgustova
Véra Nabokov (1902–1991) was in many ways the epitome of the wife of a great man: keenly aware of her husband’s extraordinary talent, she decided to make his success her ultimate goal, throughout fifty-two years of marriage until his death in 1977. The first reader of his texts, Véra worked as typist and editor. She organized their lives in exile, as they traveled to Berlin, Paris, Switzerland, and, most importantly, the US, where she convinced Vladimir to focus on writing novels in English. She not only controlled the family’s finances and contract negotiations, but also attempted to control his friendships—particularly with women—going so far as to audit his classes.
In a rich, sweeping novel, Monika Zgustova immerses us in the daily life of this remarkable couple, offering insights into their complex personal and professional relationships. Véra considered herself an independent woman, but was she really, when her husband took up so much space? And without Véra, could Nabokov have become one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers?
The pain inflicted by the gulags has cast a long and dark shadow over Soviet-era history. Zgustová's collection of interviews with former female prisoners not only chronicles the hardships of the camps, but also serves as testament to the power of beauty in face of adversity.
Where one would expect to find stories of hopelessness and despair, Zgustová has unearthed tales of the love, art, and friendship that persisted in times of tragedy. Across the Soviet Union, prisoners are said to have composed and memorized thousands of verses. Galya Sanova, born in a Siberian gulag, remembers reading from a hand-stitched copy of Little Red Riding Hood. Irina Emelyanova passed poems to the male prisoner she had grown to love. In this way, the arts lent an air of humanity to the women's brutal realities.
These stories, collected in the vein of Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Prize-winning oral histories, turn one of the darkest periods of the Soviet era into a song of human perseverance, in a way that reads as an intimate family history.