The Real Lolita
The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World
Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (9/10/2018)
Digital Audiobook (9/10/2018)
Paperback, Large Print (9/11/2018)
Compact Disc (9/11/2018)
MP3 CD (9/11/2018)
Compact Disc (9/11/2018)
October 2018 Indie Next List
— Ariel Jacobs, Solid State Books, Washington, DC
View the List
“The Real Lolita is a tour de force of literary detective work. Not only does it shed new light on the terrifying true saga that influenced Nabokov’s masterpiece, it restores the forgotten victim to our consciousness.” —David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet, very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.
Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita.
Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.
Praise For The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World…
— New York Times Book Review
“Gripping. . . . Glimpses into Nabokov’s process will tantalize die-hard fans, and true crime aficionados will relish Weinman’s assiduous reporting.”
— O Magazine
“Superb. . . . A compelling investigation. . . . Weinman has evocatively reconstructed Sally’s nightmare.”
— Fresh Air
“[A] gripping tale of a long-forgotten victim whose ordeal also echoes the more recent cases of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard.”
“[Weinman’s] real achievement is evocatively relating the story of a girl who—like her fictional counterpart—was no temptress…but the victim of a sexual predator. . . . [She] has brilliantly filled out her subject’s ghost.”
— Entertainment Weekly
“The Real Lolita stands out for its captivating mix of tenacious investigative reporting, well-chosen photographs, astute literary analysis, and passionate posthumous recognition of a defenseless child who — until now — never received the literary acknowledgment she deserved.”
“Riveting. . . . Scrupulously researched. . . . Nearly 70 years after Sally Horner’s death, Weinman’s dark and compulsively readable book will make readers aware of the absence of a nearly forgotten girl’s voice in discussions of one of the great works of American literature.”
— Los Angeles Times
“Superb. . . . Weinman has compassionately given Sally Horner pride of place once more in her own life, a life that was first brutally warped by Frank La Salle, and then appropriated by one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century.”
— Washington Post
“A sensitive look at the troubling crime that influenced Vladimir Nabokov’s most notorious book; Weinman writes with insight and empathy about both the famous author and the now-forgotten girl whose story intrigued him.”
— Boston Globe
“Utterly engrossing. . . . Weinman’s obsession becomes the reader’s obsession. . . . We develop boundless compassion for this once little girl, along with a deep empathy and sorrow for the story of her life.”
— Los Angeles Review of Books
Ecco, 9780062661920, 320pp.
Publication Date: September 11, 2018
About the Author
Sarah Weinman is the author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, an Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece, and the editor, most recently, of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsession. She is a 2020 National Magazine Award finalist for reporting and a Calderwood Journalism Fellow at MacDowell, and her work has appeared most recently in New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and the Washington Post. Weinman writes the crime column for the New York Times Book Review and lives in New York City.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Sally Horner encounters Frank La Salle at the Camden, New Jersey Woolworth’s at a critical moment in her life. Did you identify with her feelings of wanting to belong? Did you think the circumstances in which Sally grew up were a factor in what happened in March 1948?
2. The Real Lolita describes American cities like Camden, Baltimore, Dallas, and San Jose just after World War II, and neighborhoods about to go into economic decline. In the same way, Lolita is often thought of as a tug of war between old-world Europe (Humbert Humbert) and new-world America (Dolores Haze). What does Weinman’s book have to say about America, and the way things have changed—and how they haven’t?
3. Many people had the opportunity to help Sally Horner during her 21 months of captivity. What did you think of their choices, or lack of action? What might you have done in the same situation?
4. Sally’s mother, Ella, said on multiple occasions after her daughter’s rescue that “whatever Sally has done, I can forgive her.” Do you think Ella’s comment is a product of her time? What may have prompted her to think this way?
5. Ruth Janisch, the woman who engineered Sally’s rescue, is a complex, fascinating character. How can you resolve this “one decent thing” she did in her life with the way she treated her family, especially her daughters? How do we sit with the idea that people, women especially, may not look out for the best interests of those they love even as they bring about a momentous change in another person’s fortune?
6. On occasion, Weinman reveals what she hoped to find out about Sally Horner’s ordeal, and speculates on what Sally might have thought or felt at a given moment — especially during the Baltimore period. What did you think of this technique? Did it make you trust Weinman’s authority as a storyteller more?
7. Upon returning home, Sally tried to resume her old life, despite the prosecutor’s advice to Ella that she and her daughter change their names and leave town. What did you think of Ella’s choice, and how it affected Sally? How did you feel when Carol described some of the remarks and insults Sally endured because her classmates did not understand she was a victim?
8. What responsibility does a fiction writer have to real-life source material? Did Vladimir Nabokov play fair by weaving Sally Horner’s story into Lolita, or was his overarching philosophy that art must exist for art’s sake triumph above all?
9. The Real Lolita arrives at a moment when American culture in particular is taking a close look at the ways in which we treat girls and women, what with the #MeToo movement. How does Sally Horner’s story, from 70 years ago, illustrate the issues we are still grappling with today?
10. Do you think Lolita could be published in today’s cultural climate, or would it be too controversial? And what attitudes about Lolita immediately upon its American publication, and resonance with late 1950s culture, still remain?
11. If you have a child around Sally Horner’s age, do you think The Real Lolita, and Sally’s story, is a good way to discuss difficult topics like kidnapping and child sexual abuse? How would you talk about what happened to Sally to your own child?