Taking place on an alternate Earth called Demonia, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
(1969) is a fictional memoir written by Vladimir Nabokov from the perspective of Dr. Ivan Veen. Ivan recounts his romantic relationship with his sister, Ada, spanning a majority of his life. The science fiction novel is broken into five parts, and notes from Ivan, Ada, and an unknown editor are scattered throughout, giving the book the guise of an unfinished manuscript.
The novel's setting, Demonia (sometimes called Antiterra) in the late nineteenth century, has a few differences from Earth as we know it. There is no electricity due to an unknown disaster, and modern appliances run on water. The United States stretches to all of the Americas but is mostly inhabited by Russians. A city called Manhattan replaces New York City. Some inhabitants of this universe believe there is a parallel world called "Terra," a belief that Ivan spends some time researching as a psychologist.
As the story begins in 1884, Ivan, or Van, is thirteen and his cousin Ada is twelve. He has come to Ardis Hall to spend the summer with his Uncle Dan's family. His mother and aunt are twins, Aqua and Marina respectively, and his father, Demon, is the first cousin of his Uncle Dan. Van is attracted to Ada and falls in love with her. Over the four summers he spends there, the two begin to have a sexual relationship. They discover via clues in old memorabilia that Van is actually Marina's son whom she gave up to Aqua when Aqua lost a pregnancy in a skiing accident. Both Van and Ada are the products of an affair between Demon and Marina and are, therefore, brother and sister.
There is a gap in their relationship when Van starts to attend college. He returns in 1888 and discovers that Ada was not faithful to him, so he leaves, promising to exact revenge on her other lovers, though nothing comes of it.
Following Ada's unfaithfulness, there is a four-year gap in Van and Ada's relationship, and Van refuses Ada's letters. Lucette, Ada's sister, visits Van confessing that she loves him. Lucette gives Van a letter from Ada in which Ada reveals she has received an offer of marriage that she will refuse should Van invite her to live with him in Manhattan. Van agrees, and Ada moves in.
Demon arrives at the apartment to tell Van that Ada's father was naked in the woods experiencing a hallucination when he died of exposure. When Demon finds Ada there, he tells Van that he must leave Ada or Demon will disown him.
Van, distraught by his father's terms, attempts suicide but fails when the gun misfires. In his anger, he decides to hunt down Dan's former servant who has been blackmailing him with photos of Van and Ada's affair. When he finds the servant, he beats him blind.
Ada begins her acting career and marries Andrey Vinelander, who had proposed years before. Van finishes medical school and begins writing books and traveling. On a transatlantic ship to America, Lucette attempts to seduce Van, nearly succeeding. Van turns her down when Ada appears in a film they're watching. Lucette takes sleeping pills and jumps off the ship, drowning.
In 1905, Andrey and Ada arrive in Switzerland to settle Lucette's affairs. Van joins the pair. Demon has recently died in a plane crash removing him as an obstacle, so Van and Ada plan for her to leave her husband. Meanwhile, Andrey catches tuberculosis in Switzerland. Deciding that she can't leave him while he is sick, Ada resolves to nurse him back to health. Before he dies, Andrey struggles with the illness for seventeen years.
After their long separation, Ada and Van meet in Switzerland and start their lives together.
As the book closes, Van is in his nineties and still very much in love with Ada. He has a painful form of cancer. Nabakov now refers to the two by various combinations of their names; they commit suicide and "die into the finished book," though it's unclear whether their death is actual or metaphorical.
Illicit love is a prominent theme in the work; an affair between Demon and Marina results in two children who aren't aware they're siblings. This affair and cover-up are partially responsible for the incestuous relationship between Ada and Van. Additionally, Lucette witnesses the relationship and becomes attracted to Van nearly resulting in an affair between Van and Lucette, his half-sister.
Nabokov created the novel as a combination of two projects he was working on in 1959, "The Texture of Time" and "Letters from Terra." Initially receiving mixed reviews, the novel was acclaimed by prominent scholars, such as Alfred Appel of The New York Times Book Review
, who called the novel "a great work of art" and a "necessary book, radiant and rapturous."