Get a free story and 20% off your first order when you sign up for our newsletter. You'll receive updates about new titles, events, special offers, and other Cleis news. 

Join now

We (heart) FetLife: BDSM & Fetish Community for Kinksters, by kinksters

How Did You Hear About Us?
Social Media (Facebook, twitter, etc.)
Search engine
Radio / TV


Trade paper
ISBN 978-1-57344-719-5
5 x 8, 384 pages

LGBTQ Studies

Buy The eBook
Amazon Kindle
B&N Nook
Apple iBook
Google eBook

Buy the Audio Book

Share |

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov

A Novel

In this novel based on the extraordinary life of the gay brother of Vladimir Nabokov, Paul Russell re-creates the rich and changing world in which Sergey, his family and friends lived; from wealth and position in pre-revolutionary Russia, to the halls of Cambridge University, and the Parisian salon of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. But it is the honesty and vulnerability of Sergey, our young gay narrator, that hook the reader: his stuttering childhood in the shadow of his brilliant brother, his opium-fueled evenings with his sometime lover Cocteau, his troubled love life on the margins of the Ballets Russes and its legendary cast, and his isolation in war-torn Berlin where he will ultimately be arrested, be sent to a camp and die in 1945.

A meticulously researched novel, in which you will meet an extraordinary cast of characters including Picasso, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Magnus Hirschfield, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Cocteau, and of course the master himself, Vladimir Nabokov, this is ultimately the story of a beautiful and vulnerable homosexual boy growing into an enlightened and courageous man.

"A miraculous novel, witty, sexy, dramatic, and profound, the deeply involving story of a young man who experiences too much love, beauty and history in the first half of the twentieth century." —Christopher Bram, author of Gods and Monsters

"This subtle novel movingly brings back from the shadows a rich, lost life." —Michael Wood, author of The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction

“In literary heaven, where Vladimir Nabokov now resides, he wouldn’t approve of this convincing dream evocation of the life of his gay brother, but the novel is a sidelong tribute to Nabokov—tender, sad, and moving, with touches of the Maestro’s elegance.” —Herbert Gold, author of Still Alive

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is a remarkable achievement from one of our best authors. Russell’s protagonist, an outsider because of his sexuality, is an eyewitness to world-changing events who manages to find a place for himself at the heart of the creative life of his times. Russell gives us incisive portraits of Cocteau, Diaghilev, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and their Charmed Circle, and Vladimir and Véra Nabokov, and glimpses into the demimonde of Paris and Berlin. His ability to reveal his characters’ flaws without judging them results in moments of poignancy that make the triumphs as well as the tragedies he portrays all the more moving.” —Patrick Merla, editor of Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming Out Stories

“‘Beauty plus pity,’ Vladimir Nabokov’s famous definition of art, perfectly describes this moving, artful novel. Intimate and epic, gorgeously written, divinely detailed, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is an ingenious hybrid of a book, powerful, troubling, exciting.” —Sigrid Nunez, author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag

“An extraordinary novel, tender, fierce, and graceful, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is a tale of place and displacement, of shadows and siblings and countries shaken by change—and sustained, as the reader will be, by the quiet heroism of art. A tour de force.” —Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat: The Friendship
of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

“With compelling characters and steady prose, the reader will breeze through this pleasurable, heart-breaking account of the other Nabokov.” —Publishers Weekly

“Paul Russell has been so skillful and so fond in the creation of this Unreal Life that his readers will unavoidably identify it with the real one which ended in 1945. Now it is their turn to sift what is real from what is imagined, mine only to applaud the author of every life, unreal and otherwise, in this inescapable construction ‘dedicated to that ghost,’ a voice-over of Sergey, the lost Nabokov, that maintains us all in a sort of double time-machine compelling us to follow the consecrated Nabokovs and host of others through the last ecstasies of gay Europe.” —Richard Howard, author of Inner Voices and Paper Trail

“This mesmerizing novel not only recreates the shifting, unstable epoch of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, but reimagines Sergey’s persona, his loves and fate with great authenticity and imagination. It’s a heartbreaking novel that everyone should read.” —Alistair McCartney, author of The End of the World Book

“It takes an accomplished novelist to bring to glittering life a lost and foreign world. Russell lavishes upon Vladimir Nabokov’s unheralded and doomed younger brother Sergey the divine attention, sympathy, and patience we all wish to receive from our creator.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day

“Paul Russell exhibits uncanny knowledge of the period and its people. He is an unfailing guide through St. Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin, dope dens, literary salons, drag balls, and wartorn streets. From the height of genius and to the depth of the gutter, Russell extends his precise, penetrating and panoramic gaze.” —David Bergman, author of The Violet Hour

“In this melancholy, graceful novel, Paul Russell has captured a vanished time and people, and even the clarity and formality of mid-20th century émigré prose. Despite loss and alienation dating almost from birth, Russell’s Sergey emerges as the more humane Nabokov brother, and you cheer for his brief happiness and the love he found before history closed in.” —Regina Marler, author of Bloomsbury Pie

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov advances the art of biography even as it proves itself the very best of Paul Russell’s fine novels.Our hero lacks his brother’s genius, but he is that rare creature, the genuinely brave and sweet man to whom one hates to say goodbye. And now we don’t have to.” —Kevin Killian, author of Arctic Summer

PAUL RUSSELL is the author of six novels, including The Salt Point, Sea of Tranquillity, and the Ferro-Grumley Award-winning The Coming Storm.

Also by Paul Russell

Home | About | Spotlight | Cleis News | Cleis Awards | For The Media | How To Order | For Booksellers | Contact | Resources | Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2016 Cleis Press, All Rights Reserved.