By Stacy Schiff
480 pages; Random House
Author Stacy Schiff won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for her stunning portrayal of the ultimate "writer's wife," Véra Nabokov. You didn't have to be a Lolita scholar to find the twists and turns of this marriage fascinating or to understand the countless ways in which even a gifted writer like Vladimir Nabokov needed all the help he could get.
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Now: Sophia Tolstoy
By Alexandra Popoff
368 pages; Free Press
In Sophia Tolstoy, Alexandra Popoff's fascinating biography of the young wife of the brooding Russian author Leo Tolstoy, we get another picture of greatness behind greatness. While Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and War and Peace are universally considered two of the world's most important books, the author himself was conflicted about his artistic responsibility, and tortured about the value of his work—and he was, by any measure, a difficult husband. The 16-years-younger Sophia bore his tantrums, all the while carefully copying his texts to get them ready for publication. She also endured 16 pregnancies, withstood the deaths of several of her children, and put up with Tolstoy's religious rants, with which she vehemently disagreed. Although she became a serious photographer and an activist on behalf of Russia's many poor farmers, when she wrote and tried to publish a frank memoir of her life, she was demonized. Popoff writes that the common wisdom has been that "Tolstoy's martyrdom was suffered at home," by a wife as torturous as the Inquisition. This biography—and the publication of Sophia's long-suppressed memoir later this year—should help set the record straight. — Sara Nelson
Next: Who can resist a happy ending?