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A dazzling story of obsessive love emerges in Cynthia Zarin's luminous new book inspired and inhabited by the title character of Nabokov's novel Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle,
who was the lifelong love of her half brother, Van.
These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and things--the exploration of the Hudson River, Edwardian London, sunflowers, Chekhov, Harlem, decks of cards, the death of Solzhenitsyn, morpho butterflies--collide with the speaker's own protean tale of desire and loss. With a string of brilliant contemporary sonnets as its spine, the book is a headlong display of mastery and sorrow: in the opening poem, "Birch," the poet writes "Abide with me, arrive / at its skinned branches, its arms pulled / from the sapling . . . the birch all elbows, taking us in." But Zarin does not
"Destroy and forget" as Nabokov's witty, tender Ada would have her do; rather, as she writes in "Fugue: Pilgrim Valley," "The past's / clear colors make the future dim, Lethe's / swale lined with willow twigs." Like all enduring love poetry, these poems are a gorgeous refusal to forget.
A riveting, high-stakes performance by one of our major poets, The Ada Poems
extends the reach of American poetry.