A gripping true-crime investigation of the 1948 abduction of 11-year-old Sally Horner, which brings the forgotten girl--and the two years she was forced to pretend she was the daughter of her kidnapper and abuser--back to life. The real-life inspiration of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time, yet very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was derived from a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of 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, old news stories, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman establishes with authority 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. As she walks us through Sally's story, Weinman takes us on an intimate and panoramic tour of mid-century America, from Sally's home in Camden, New Jersey, to her place of rescue in California, and back to the East Coast again.
The story of Sally Horner 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.
SARAH WEINMAN is the editor of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Library of America) and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Penguin). She is the author of an influential newsletter, The Crime Lady, has covered publishing for Publishers Marketplace, and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, the Guardian, Buzzfeed, the National Post (where she was the "Crime Wave" columnist) the Globe and Mail, Maclean's and Hazlitt, where the story that inspired this book appeared. Her Hazlitt features have twice been nominated for National Magazine Awards. A native of Ottawa and a graduate of McGill University, as well as of John Jay College of Criminal Justice's forensic science graduate program, Weinman lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Winner of the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book
“A masterful work of non-fiction that challenges our understanding of authority, memory, and public narrative. . . . [S]hows us just how easy it is for a story like Sally Horner’s to be swept up and overtaken by a narrative on someone else’s terms.” —Ottawa Life Magazine
“A combination of true-crime narrative and literary exegesis. . . . Weinman builds a solid case.” —Quill & Quire
“Rather than exploit the sordid details of the crime, Weinman uses them to fuel a sophisticated re-evaluation of Nabokov’s controversial classic. . . . The Real Lolita deepens and challenges our reading of Nabokov’s classic novel.” —Literary Review of Canada
“The achievement of [Weinman's] impressive literary sleuthing is to bring to life a girl whose story had been lost.” —The New York Times
“[S]uperb. . . . Though Nabokov himself always denied that his great novel had roots in the foul rag-and-bone shop of true crime, Weinman assembles evidence to the contrary. She convincingly demonstrates how Nabokov strip-mined Sally Horner’s story to produce the bones of Lolita. . . . Weinman has evocatively reconstructed Sally’s nightmare.” —NPR
“A tantalizing, entertaining true-life detective and literary story whose roots were hidden deep in a novel that has perplexed and challenged readers for decades.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Works brilliantly as both detective narrative and cultural history. . . . [Weinman] gives us brilliant insight into a tragic story, but also a nuanced, empathetic look at the young girl at its center.” —NYLON
“Captivating, heart-rending . . . offers both nuanced and compassionate true-crime reportage and revelatory cultural and literary history. It will, quite simply, change the way you think about Lolita and ‘Lolitas’ forever.” —Megan Abbott, Edgar Award-winning author of You Will Know Me and other crime novels
“Compassionate and necessary, Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita is more than a true-crime achievement. It’s a literary rescue mission, bringing to life the tragic real-life case that forms the dark heart of Nabokov’s classic. You’ll never read Lolita the same way again.” —Robert Kolker, author of the upcoming Hidden Valley Road
“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, bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z
“The Real Lolita is the corrective we never knew we needed, a lively, engrossing work of scholarship that does not diminish Nabokov, but gently insists that we not indulge his trickster ways. Sally Horner matters and, thanks to Sarah Weinman, she and Dolores Haze will be forever linked. Groundbreaking work, a new genre unto itself.” —Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of Sunburn