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The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

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The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

September 2018

I confess that I do not remember reading LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov, though I know I did at some point. That took nothing away from my reading Sarah Weinman’s THE REAL LOLITA. I have long respected Sarah as a journalist, and I know her reporting and interviews are always thought-provoking and in-depth. So when I read this book to interview her for the Author Buzz panel at BookExpo, I knew I was in for both strong storytelling and a no-holds-barred investigation in this true-crime work.

Sarah dug deeply to tell Sally Horner’s story and gave her a voice here. Readers learn details of her kidnapping from her home in Camden, NJ in 1948 when she was just 11. A man caught Sally shoplifting a book from a store, and after falsely identifying himself as an FBI agent, he told her he would be watching her and the story of her theft would haunt her. That summer, he came forth and told her that she needed to accompany him to Atlantic City to meet with authorities. A ruse was put into play when he called her mother to say he was the father of a school friend and was taking her to the beach with his daughter. Her mom was at first skeptical but agreed, knowing that Sally would enjoy the time away with friends. She realized later that she did not ask for many details. Instead, Sally was abducted by a sadistic rapist who held her captive for nearly two years.

The pair moved across the country, with Sally being tormented by this rapist while trying to keep up some semblance of a normal life. Finally, in San Jose, California, she broke free from Frank LaSalle, the man who impersonated the agent. There was a trial that resulted in Frank going to jail, and Sally seemed to pick up with her life. She died a couple of years later in a tragic accident, and with her the lurid tale of her kidnapping may have died.

But then LOLITA came along with strong parallels to Sally’s story. Nabokov denied this was the inspiration for Dolores Haze and Humbert Humbert, but in Sarah’s research she found notes to the contrary. In Nabokov’s research papers, she saw notes connecting the two and drew lots of parallels in the book. The research is so well done. Sarah made me want to reread LOLITA and wonder what she will write next. Book groups, reading LOLITA and THE REAL LOLITA would be an interesting parallel.

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World
by Sarah Weinman

  • Publication Date: September 11, 2018
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062661922
  • ISBN-13: 9780062661920