Sarah Weinman

The Real Lolita

The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

Ecco, September 2018

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.

Among the Wholesome Children: The Real-Life Abduction that Inspired Lolita will tell Sally Horner’s full story for the first time; reveal the connections and parallels between Nabokov’s novel and the true events; deliver insights into such abductions, mistreatments, and returns to society; and provide an intimate and panoramic portrait of a gritty mid-century America, from the Camden, New Jersey,  at the heart and beginning of the story to the inevitable cross-country abduction and return. A heartbreaking account of the real, hidden story of Sally’s abduction – and recovery – Among the Wholesome Children serves as a reminder of the power, uses, and differences between the best fiction, and its imagined worlds, and the best nonfiction, and its recovered worlds.