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Speak, Memory

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  8,588 Ratings  ·  572 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.
Kindle Edition, 335 pages
Published (first published 1951)
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Barbara Cheifet This is Nabokov's autobiography. You should read it, it is the best autobiography/memoir I've read. Just beautifully written. There isn't really a…moreThis is Nabokov's autobiography. You should read it, it is the best autobiography/memoir I've read. Just beautifully written. There isn't really a plot - its a series of memories from his childhood and teenage years, but if you like his writing, you will enjoy it.(less)
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Mar 31, 2012 Buck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
22nd November
Nabokov is a joker - if I didn’t know that already, I’d have learned it when I reached the end of Speak, Memory.

I’d begun my review of the book when I was about half way through reading it, something I often do, preferring to jot down thoughts and impressions as I read in case I've forgotten the significance of this or that point by the time I've reached the end. Very soon, I have a couple of paragraphs readymade and only need to tidy them up here and there, find a suitable introduc
Dec 03, 2012 Mariel rated it liked it  ·  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
Dec 27, 2012 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  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
Riku Sayuj

Remember Those Evenings

Reading tonight, he remembers those evenings,
Walking together in the endless estates,
Where the sun poured over shining green leaves.
No hint of shades.

Again in this room, with the screen-light hiding the night,
Look back to those mountains where our walking sticks are hid;
See him turn to the window, thinking his last
Of faraway climes.

Now nights come bringing only doubts, and the dead howl
Of half-formed thoughts, in their windy dwelling
Inside his mind, too full of easy
مروان البلوشي
من أجمل وأعظم الكتب التي قرأتها في حياتي، وأشعر بأني سأعود لقراءته مرة بعد الأخرى في المستقبل.
ولا يحتوي الكتاب فحسب على رؤية ناباكوف حول الذاكرة، والشوق، والحنين، والمنفى، والوطن، واعادة صناعة الماضي والهوية. بل أنه يحتوي على بعض آراء ناباكوف الغريبة والفريدة حول مواضيع مثل فكرة الزمن والوقت والخلود، يقول ناباكوف :

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highes
Mar 17, 2008 Sanjeev rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 19, 2007 Allycks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Jul 28, 2014 Mikimbizii rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
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
Jan 04, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully evocative memoir, consisting of the personal recollections of Nabakov, recalling his childhood in Imperial Russia . Nabakov was born in 1899 to a family who were not only members of the aristocracy, but heavily involved in politics. His father was a liberal, who opposed the Tsar and, in fact, as his grandmother wryly pointed out, was working to bring down the way of life which would eventually see him exiled and virtually penniless…

However, this is certainly not a memoir fi
Aug 02, 2014 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
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 nicchi
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
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.
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
Nov 21, 2008 Manny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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...
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 17, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  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
Mar 02, 2013 Juan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nabokov
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
Aug 13, 2008 Geoff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, volodya
I could not have asked for a better reading experience.
Aug 08, 2012 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2012
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
Jul 11, 2008 AK rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Кремена Михайлова
„Когато си представям редуването на тези учители, ме поразяват не толкова забавните трусове, които те внасяха в живота ми, колкото устойчивостта и хармоничната цялостност на този живот. Със задоволство отбелязвам висшето постижение на Мнемозина: майсторството, с което тя съединява отделните части на основната мелодия, като събира и свързва момините сълзи на нотите, провесени тук и там по цялата чернова партитура на миналото. И ми харесва да си представям при гръмкия възторжен изблик на събраните ...more
Nabokov writes like no other. And when I say this, I also mean that no one else could get away with writing like him. The balance he creates between humor and precision in his serious prose is so contemporary, yet would never succeed in our current literary climate were a writer to attempt and replicate it. At times I had to laugh at him for his choice of words, but he could write about anything and make it his own.

In this case though, he's writing about himself. Based on the blurb on the back
Inderjit Sanghera
‘Speak Memory’ is the second edition of Nabokov’s autobiography, which he initially titled ‘Conclusive Evidence’: a mundane, banal and academic title for a book of such effervescent poetry. Nabokov’s original suggestion of Speak Mnemosyne does the poetry of Nabokov’s prose more justice, however it was deemed unpronounceable and thus unsellable by Nabokov’s publishers. This little snippet of information in many ways sums up Nabokov’s art; Nabokov’s works deal with the quiddity and innate richness ...more
It is a bit disquieting to review an autobiography. The reviewer struggles to shake the uncomfortable (but not untrue) feeling that one is reviewing not only a book, but a being. The substance and style both stem from the same soul; the content and quality come from the identical individual. The temptation is to offer a slight round of applause, a light pat on the back, and then to move on quietly but quickly. So I hope I don't damage my relationship with Vlad if I confess a vague but unmistakab ...more
Apr 29, 2014 Heidi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
anca dc
Sep 16, 2009 anca dc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008-2009
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
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
Jan 03, 2015 Nigeyb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only the second book I have read by Vladimir Nabokov, the first was the amazing Lolita and, in common with that book, the writing is a delight.

Speak, Memory is a memoir that explores some of Nabokov's recollections. Each chapter is an independent entity and can be read on its own.

The bulk of the chapters recall Nabokov's childhood in an aristocratic family living in pre-revolutionary Saint Petersburg, and at a country estate near Siverskaya. The last three chapters recall his years in Cambridge
Aug 08, 2007 Brie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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).
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Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. 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 cit
More about Vladimir Nabokov...

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“One is always at home in one's past...” 84 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.” 66 likes
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