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Speak, Memory

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  10,797 ratings  ·  761 reviews
From one of the 20th century's great writers comes one of the finest autobiographies of our time. 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 ...more
Paperback, 255 pages
Published October 2000 by Penguin (first published April 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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4.19  · 
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 ·  10,797 ratings  ·  761 reviews


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Buck
Feb 11, 2012 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
...more
Jim Fonseca
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
After reading a bit about how excellent and unusual this book is as an autobiography, I was surprised to find it more traditional than I expected --- still excellent, but traditional. It covers the first half of Nabokov’s life (1899-1977) until 1940, when at age 41 he moved the United States. Many of the chapters were published as short stories or memoirs in American magazines such as The New Yorker and the Atlantic.

The chapter about his nanny was published as “Mademoiselle O” in the Atlantic i
...more
Fionnuala
Nabokov is a joker. If I hadn’t known 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 readymade paragraphs and only need to tidy them up here and there, add a suitable opening and closing lin
...more
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
I never knew this guy had synesthesia...

Q:
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. (c)
Q:
Nature expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much. (c)
Q:
AS FAR back as I rem
...more
TBV
“My old (since 1917) quarrel with the Soviet dictatorship is wholly unrelated to any question of property. My contempt for the émigré who ‘hates the Reds’ because they ‘stole’ his money and land is complete. The nostalgia I have been cherishing all these years is a hypertrophied sense of lost childhood, not sorrow for lost banknotes.”

And that is what this collage of memories is all about. It is not a conventional autobiography. It doesn't present a chronological account of Nabokov's life, nor do
...more
Sue
Nov 08, 2012 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
...more
Mariel
Nov 28, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Allycks
Jul 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
FotisK
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Οι αυτοβιογραφίες λογοτεχνών δεν με ενθουσιάζουν ως είδος. Σύμφωνα με τη δική μου οπτική, αυτό που έχει σημασία είναι πάντα και πρώτιστα το έργο και όχι οι απόψεις, οι προσωπικότητες ή τα πεπραγμένα τους. Δεδομένου μάλιστα πως πλήττω αφόρητα ιδίως με την παράθεση στιγμών από την παιδική ηλικία, αποφεύγω να αναλώνω πολύτιμο χρόνο σε κάτι που εκ προοιμίου θεωρώ ανούσιο.
Οφείλω όμως να τονίσω πως τα προηγηθέντα δεν ισχύουν στην περίπτωση του "Μίλησε μνήμη", καθότι πρόκειται για μια αμιγώς λογοτεχνι
...more
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
...more
Sanjeev
Sep 18, 2007 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
...more
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
...more
Raul Bimenyimana
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
After reading the personal experiences of a writer, normally I like the writer more than I did before. This wasn't the case with this book. My admiration for Nabokov's talent, intelligence and sense of humour increased, but I ended up annoyed with Nabokov as a person.

Born into an aristocratic and wealthy family, fifty servants, French and English governesses, Russian tutors, grand estates, limousines, Vladimir Nabokov's childhood was spent in a state of comfort at the very least. The child Vladi
...more
Mikimbizii
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Hakan
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
çok şık, çok asil, çok zarif, çok incelikli, çok estetik, çok…bir otobiyografi. ve özgün, nabokov’un eşsiz üslubuyla işlenmiş: nabokovca.

övgüler düzmek dışında, yazarın ilk hatırlarından yaklaşık kırk yaşına kadar olan hayatından izler, daha doğrusu tablolar-sahneler taşıdığını söyleyeyim bu otobiyografinin. geçmişe bakmanın, geçmişi canlandırmanın yolu, hemen herkeste olduğu gibi, nabokov’da da küçük sahnelerden geçiyor. unutulan, unutulduğu sanılan zaman dilimleri ve nice olaylar, insanlar bu
...more
Darwin8u
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, aere-perennius
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
Manny
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it

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...
Susan
Dec 27, 2014 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
...more
Clarissa Olivarez
Jan 22, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
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
...more
Auguste
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
How wrong Nabokov was in claiming that the music gene had skipped him! His prose is nothing if not music.
Asclepiade
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Il ricordo è a volte traditore, a volte saturo e dovizioso all’inverosimile; ci sono casi nei quali getta sul nostro passato sguardi labili e instabili come lacrime nella pioggia, ed altri ove ce ne restituisce una arazzo agucchiato con la più vertiginosa sottigliezza, completo di dettagli e particolari che faticheremmo a discernere ma perfino già solo a percepire in una scena che descrivessimo dal vivo. E un maestro nell’immortalare la memoria è Vladimir Nabokov: nei romanzi, ma anche e sopratt ...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
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 03, 2009 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
...more
Smiley
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
3.75 stars

Indeed, I have possessed its handsome hardcover copy (Everyman's Library, 1999) since 2010 but I never thought of reading it due to its fonts in which I thought I would prefer their larger ones like those published in Conrad's Victory (Everyman's Library, 1998). Of course it has eventually been the product of its typography so its fonts as such set as the printed standard and it can't be changed overnight, it's just my opinion. One thing is certain, I won't read it for the sake of my e
...more
Chrissie
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Agnes
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia, biografie
Ho letto alcuni suoi romanzi (ma ora li rileggerò ) senza esserne proprio entusiasta, mai avrei immaginato che la sua biografia fosse così bella: pagine di poesia ! 10 stelle!
Roy Lotz
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
Juan
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Alan
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First read the autobiography before he retitled, and somewhat rewrote, it—though unless I find my notes to that reading ("Conclusive Evidence"), I shall not know what he rewrote. I do have a copy of Speak, Memory on my shelf, fairly innocent of marginalia until now. (Page numbers from my Vintage edition.)

He began writing in French, on his Swiss French teacher, Madamoiselle O, Chapter 5.
She was a large woman who spoke one word of Russian, где, which she pronounced, “Giddy-eh?” Where? It sufficed
...more
Geoff
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, volodya
I could not have asked for a better reading experience.
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
Inderjit Sanghera
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
‘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
Jim
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, russia
Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited is one of the best autobiographies I have ever read, ranking with Tolstoy's Childhood, Boyhood, Youth in its evocation of an idyllic Russian upbringing. Both Nabokov and Tolstoy came from Russian nobility, so their early years were characterized by a loving family, live-in tutors and nurses, and the beauties of the Russian countryside.

The book continues past the Russian Revolution to the beginning of the author's wanderings in France,
...more
Eric
Absolutely enchanting. After 'Lolita,' of course, this is where you look see what Nabokov could do with English prose.
Nick Craske
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Ten stars. A work of art.
AK
Jun 25, 2007 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
...more
Edward
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Here is Nabokov in full literary flight: beautiful sentences, rich insights, poignant moments. If I were a cynical person, I'd say that Nabokov is at his very best when writing about himself (Sorry, I'm still recovering from my reading of Bend Sinister).

Behind the words, however, there persisted in me an intermittent sensation of being slightly repelled by parts of Nabokov's personality. It's hard to say exactly what was the cause: something about his manner of speaking about the people he was
...more
El
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.
(p19)
Nabokov begins his autobiography with that one beautiful sentence. As indicated by the title itself, his autobiography is more about memory than, I think, a typical autobiography. In most, I get that an author is telling his or her story as memory allows it, but Nabokov takes that one step further - memory is, in a way, a dream state, and that is exa
...more
Heidi
Mar 09, 2014 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
...more
M. Sarki
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I did not like the autobiography so it gets one star, but because it was exquisitely written it gets another star to boot. But that doesn't make the book good or very much fun to read. It was similar to orally having to swallow some very disgusting-tasting medicine. And I am really not sure why I had such an aversion to this work of genius (or so they say). There might be something triggering a feeling for me against those of us who are entitled, or think we are, who carry a mantle of higher pow ...more
Uday
Jun 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book which has eclipsed almost the entirety of my graduation, the favorite gospel from my Personal Jesus.
anca dc
Apr 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Giulia (juliareadingdiary)
With a superb writing and a fine watching eye (not to mention his well-known subtle humour), Nabokov invites us inside the memories of the first 40 years of his life, from the childhood in Russia to the émigré life around European capitals.
The author tells his past in a non-linear, erudite and kaleidoscopic narration, but always in such an intimate way that when you close the book you feel like you had known him personally and that he was talking straight to you. Personally, I'm utterly intrigue
...more
Brie
Aug 08, 2007 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 a big interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequen
...more
“One is always at home in one's past...” 138 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.” 103 likes
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