Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited
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Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  6,644 ratings  ·  430 reviews
Speak, Memory, first published in 1951 as Conclusive Evidence and then assiduously revised in 1966, is an elegant and rich evocation of Nabokov's life and times, even as it offers incisive insights into his major works, including Lolita, Pnin, Despair, The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and The Defense.


From the Trade Paperback edition....more
ebook, 336 pages
Published February 16th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1951)
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Buck
Vladimir Nabokov was the Niles Crane of 20th-century literature: snooty, fastidious, and comically inept at being a normal guy. (And it’s part of his fastidiousness that he would have despised my handy, pop-culture analogy). Even his ailments had something snobbish about them. I mean, synesthesia? Who has that? And what kind of douche decides that sleep is too plebeian? Would it have been so hard to come down with herpes and depression like everyone else?

Needless to say, Speak, Memory is one of...more
Mariel
Dec 03, 2012 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: I want to be buried with a pocketful of clarity
Recommended to Mariel by: the attorney didn't put enough girls on my jury
I have often noticed that after I had bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in the artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it. Although it lingered on in my mind, its personal warmth, its retrospective appeal had gone and, presently, it became more closely identified with my novel than with my former self, where it had seemed to be so safe from the intrusion of the artist.

Please disregard the three stars above. There is no dark lined s...more
Sue
Dec 27, 2012 Sue rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of memoirs, biographies
Recommended to Sue by: The Imprinted Life
Finis! There are parts of this memoir that I absolutely loved and there are parts, mostly later in the memoir and in Nabokov's life, that I found more difficult to embrace as a reader. The Everyman's Library Edition I read also has an excellent introduction by Brian Boyd which offers great insights into the book, especially for a reader like me who has no background in Nabokov.

To outline the task he had set before him, Nabokov writes in his Foreward



"This re-Englishing of a Russian re-version of...more
Allycks
This is, in my opinion, Nabokov's best work. The autobiography as a form suits Nabokov perfectly, as his novels are never so much about plot or 'big ideas,' just the intense poetic possibilities of language itself. So be forewarned, there is almost no useful information here. You may learn a thing or two about pre-Revolution Russia, a scrap of detail about his encounters with Joyce in Paris, or some tidbits about butterfly hunting, but really there's nothing to be learned, no story, no clues to...more
Sanjeev
Disgusting that a somebody could be such an amazing writer. (And this is a person born in Russia, writing in English!) The word "genius" seems to come up a lot when people speak of Nabokov. Having read this, I now understand.

It took me some time to become used to the way he writes. Nabokov often does not seem to care if his point is immediately clear to the reader. Some of the gems I found in this book I could just as easily have missed in a quicker read. So close attention is rewarded. Also rec...more
James
This is one of the most fascinating and well-written books I've ever read. Nabokov lived through some of the biggest events of the 20th Century. So you would expect his memoir to discuss in detail those events and their significance to him. But such a predictable telling just isn't Nabokov's style. What you get instead are extremely elaborate depictions of his childhood/adolescent past-times, all the various tutors he had, his formative crushes, his beloved and foibled family, and the morose Swi...more
Marco Tamborrino
"Da allora in poi, per parecchi anni, finché scrivendo un romanzo non riuscii a liberarmi di quella feconda emozione, ho continuato a equiparare la perdita del mio paese alla perdita del mio amore."

Non ho trattato bene questo libro. Sono stato cattivo nei suoi confronti. L'ho iniziato verso la fine dello scorso anno scolastico, poi l'ho ripreso verso la fine di questo e infine oggi l'ho concluso. È un libro meraviglioso, non c'è dubbio. Tuttavia la sua pesantezza lo rende una lettura di nicchia...more
Jimmy
Many years ago, I had read about half of Lolita before putting it down. I don’t remember why, since I enjoyed the extremely pleasing sentences at the time. Nevertheless, I have not read any Nabokov since then, and everyone seems to be personally insulted by this omission. What is it that inspires Nabokov fans to froth at the mouth so violently when it comes to this topic? (update: I have now re-read Lolita, and my review can be found here)

I was promised that this book will let me into the secret...more
Mikimbizii
Sometimes a book just happens to you, it finds you, popping up from an exhibition that you almost didn't go to, from a dusty corner of a college library or a tiny book shop. The flirting is momentary, you know this is the real thing; there is no hesitation. You take it home, its love at first sight ("and ever and ever sight"). Suddenly all your life so far seem so mundane and banal, a new world of tender mellowness opens - you assimilate it, drown and resurrect in it, live its sublimity, you bec...more
Cristina
Vladimir perdonami. So che sei enormemente apprezzato e stimato, la colpa e' mia, lo so, ma non ce la fo'. Ho provato ad interessarmi alla tua felicissima e fortunatissima infanzia, ma e' tutto troppo, e' tutto "issimo" intorno a te. Mi hai enormente ammorbata e indisposta con l'inutile albero genealogico della tua famiglia bellissima ricchissima intelligentissima educatissima importantissima etc... ma non ci ho trovato anima capisci? La nota della spesa ha piu' colore piu' calore Vladimir. Ho p...more
Juan
The embedding of minute details from a world forever gone into the plush, exuberant prose of Nabokov is the closest you will come to literature practiced as jewellery, horology or some combination of the two.

Apart from the stuff I mentioned in the reading updates I'd like to bring to the fore, from amongst the embarrassment of riches that is Speak, Memory, the following:

In speaking about his love for composing "fairy chess" moves, which he describes as a poethico-mathematical endeavor, Nabokov...more
Chrissie
This book is amazing, not for the story it tells but for how that story is written. It consists of essays written and published at different times and places, but it all holds together. Each chapter follows the other in basically chronological order. Let the author speak for himself:

For the present final edition of Speak Memory I have not only introduced basic changes and copious additions into the initial English text, but have availed myself of the corrections I made while turning it into Russ...more
AK
Jul 11, 2008 AK rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who appreciate prose style and things Russian
A gift of a book, a beautiful memoir.

Whenever I start thinking of my love for a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my love - from my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matter - to monstrously remote points of the universe. Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behavior of nebulae (whose very remoteness seems a form of insanity), the dreadful pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable...more
Clarissa Olivarez
I just prefer his fiction. I understand that this is one of the most important autobiographies/memoirs ever written, but I fail to see why. I admit that Nabokov's "poetic prose" really shines through, at certain times; however, on the whole, I found the narrative voice to be frustrating, pompous, and oppressive.
Heidi
Like the ardent lepidopterist he is, Nabokov pins beautiful memories to the page: moments in time so saturated with colour and intricacy it’s as if the reader was there as witness. I loved this book and its old-fashioned language, dripping with adjectives and metaphors, wringing so much nuance from small everyday scenes that they appear more real than if they were seen in a painting or a film. He is a master of the reconstituted moment.

Speak, Memory paints a picture of the author’s privileged l...more
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 17, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books
Shelves: 501, memoirs
Wow! This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read! Prior to this, top in my list were Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes and Harry Bernstein's The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers.

Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory neither has that sorry circumstance of being a born in dirt-poor Irish family nor being a witness to a tragic love story between two people of different religions. Rather, the young Nabokov was the eldest child of a rich political couple residing on a big house (with lots...more
anca dc
Scriere placuta si lina, care prin frumusetea descrierilor m’a plimbat prin locuri n_e_m_a_i_v_a_z_u_t_e dar, uite asa, i_m_a_g_i_n_a_t_e :) Am colindat paduri, am fugit pe plaja impreuna cu Colette si Floss, am simtit mainile aspre ale lui Mademoiselle, am simtit din plin zborul fluturilor, iar adierea vioaie a aripilor acestora razbate de’a lungul intregii autobiografii, nu numai in capitolul alocat acestei pasiuni. Cu Nabokov am ris, am ris pe strada cu oameni mirati linga mine, am ris de per...more
Brie
He has an absolutely amazing vocabulary which he uses totally un-pretentiously and beautifully. I loved the way that he took forever to tell stories and never really got around to saying anything, and his dry sense of humour was great, as in the game of reminiscences about the writer that he played with his friend, and his descriptions of his tutors. It was really touching the way he adresses his wife in the writing (although without really giving any information about her).
Manny

One of the greatest literary autobiographies ever - a model for how to do it. My favourite anecdote: when he talks about how cold it was in his student room, he denies the rumour that the water in his toothmug froze solid during the night. Just a crisp layer of ice on the top, that he broke with his toothbrush...
Lavinia
Not too many things to say about Nabokov’s memories. It’s just that you discover the writer behind his work (so far Lolita, in my case), daydreaming and wishing you were one of his playmates in that idyllic Russian countryside or my old love, Sankt Petersburg. His incursions into the past, Mnemosina, as he calls his memories, reveal, as I suppose everyone expects, an avid reader or (surprise?) a passionate entomologist, a young man spending his nights solving or creating chess problems or skippi...more
Tim Hainley
I don't think I was quite in the mood for this. Obviously it's incredibly well-written. I mean, if I was the end result of the breeding of tens of generations of Russian intellectual nobility, I'd probably be a smarty pants too. Sorry, smarty écouter. Still, while I enjoyed the gauzy nostalgia of his childhood, I felt like there was a lot of interesting story I was missing, replaced for some reason by extensive descriptions of butterfly collecting. Sure, it's still Nabokov writing about butterfl...more
Maijabeep
4.5 stars. I think this memoir could really use some footnotes. If this edition did I would have probably given it five stars.

So it's official. I would read Nabokov writing about anything. I even liked the chapter about butterflies. I don't know how he manages to write so beautifully and with so many claws simultaneously. And oh it made me laugh.

I've been thinking that the memoir-narrator Nabokov is actually an unreliable narrator - and he hints at this at the foreword of my edition. It makes...more
Matt
An wormhole of synthestesia and nostalgia. Absolutely strange but organically beautiful. It's like a letter written home to Memory as a mother. I don't think there any other memoir is structured quite like this one.

""The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some fort...more
David
I actually do think this book was amazing, but amazing is not necessarily enough to be totally enamored. Nabokov is the ultimate people's intellectual, hovering only just within reach of those who consider themselves a little better than the hoi polloi: keeping himself there by threatening at any moment to go beyond - and at moments even going beyond, and taking a breather, with a Gauloise, from the stench of the commonality in his ivory tower. His overweening snobbishness whisks him to fantasyl...more
Robert Farwell
Speak, Mnemosyne!

Probably one of my favorite autobiographies to date (beaten only perhaps by the Education of Henry Adams). Realistically, it is 4.56 stars given the narrative gaps (most were written as individual pieces for Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker and Harpers). The section on butterflies (Chapter 6), his Russian education (Chapter 9), and his portrait of his mother (Chapter 2) were absolutely AMAZING. Other chapters were just as good, and only a couple were less than what I hoped. It...more
William Herschel
Jun 10, 2010 William Herschel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers who are aspiring autobiography writers, Nabokov fans
Shelves: own, nonfiction, 2010
When I think of any autobiography or memoir in comparison I want to laugh, 'cause they'll never be this good.
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heart beats an hour).

I could see myself in some suspended loop, finishing this book and then s...more
Emm
This memoir is an absolute delight! Although I wish I could have sat with it for hours until finishing it, it was also the perfect book to read little-by-little, over time. It seems increasingly rare to encounter text that both requires and rewards such focus and concentration; it was wonderful to savor the opportunity to clear all thoughts and submerge into a good book.
Like memory, the narrative occurs in vignettes rather than chronologically, which adds to the delicateness and richness of the...more
sarah gilbert
Any foray into a spectacular mind must needs be sparked with blackness, fantastic oddity, and the occasional insufferable passage or three. Can I endure another connection with a famous artist or scientist or politician? Can I count the number of times he invokes his nearness to Pushkin? Can I bear how purely his mother loved him? (Of course, his mother loved him, he was favorite both of mother and father, the eldest surviving child, heir in the end not to wealth or property or title but surely...more
Selby
Speak, Memory, I have been waiting for you.

This is the Nabokov I have been yearning for.

I am in love with Nabokov's prose, always have been. I first read Lolita when I was not much older than the title character and have been rather smitten with Nabokov's writing ever since.

There was no love, however, no love. Not like I love Dubliners, not like I love Jesus' Son, or how I am starting to love Zazen.

Lolita: Read it as a masterpiece.

Invitation to a Beheading: Read it as comedy.

Pale Fire: Read it...more
Jee Koh
I finished reading Nabokov's Speak, Memory on Feb 17, during our stay with T and D in Kingston. It is a beautifully written memoir, full of tender things in it. Tender because irretrievably lost. Chapter Five, to my mind, is the best thing in it. It's about Nabokov's French governess, Mademoiselle. Having moved from Switzerland to Russia, she was not only geographically but culturally displaced. After she returned to her own country, she would speak of her time in Russia as her best years. The c...more
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Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков

Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as his most important novel, and is at any rate his most widely known one, exhibiting the love of intrica...more
More about Vladimir Nabokov...
Lolita Pale Fire Pnin Invitation to a Beheading Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

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“One is always at home in one's past...” 43 likes
“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged-the same house, the same people- and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.” 40 likes
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