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Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Vladimir Nabokov
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Oct 2000 Penguin Modern Classics
'Speak, memory', said Vladimir Nabokov. And immediately there came flooding back to him a host of enchanting recollections - of his comfortable childhood and adolescence, of his rich, liberal-minded father, his beautiful mother, an army of relations and family hangers-on and of grand old houses in St Petersburg and the surrounding countryside in pre-Revolutionary Russia. Young love, butterflies, tutors and a multitude of other themes thread together to weave an autobiography, which is itself a work of art.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Re-issue edition (26 Oct 2000)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141183225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141183220
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri. Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

Product Description


"[Nabokov] has fleshed the bare bones of historical data with hilarious anecdotes and with a felicity of style that makes "Speak, Memory" a constant pleasure to read. Confirmed Nabokovians will relish the further clues and references to his fictional works that shine like nuggets in the silver stream of his prose." --"Harper's""Scintillating...One finds here amazing glimpses into the life of a world that has vanished forever." --"New York Times"

About the Author

Vladimir Nabokov was born in 1899 in St Petersburg. He wrote his first literary works in Russian, but rose to international prominence as a masterly prose stylist for the novels he composed in English, most famously, Lolita. Between 1923 and 1940 he published novels, short stories, plays, poems and translations in the Russian language and established himself as one of the most outstanding Russian émigré writers. He died in 1977.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime 28 April 2010
As everyone knows, Nabokov was one of the greatest stylists of the 20th Century and this is one of his greatest books. In 'The Go-Between' L.P. Hartley said, "The past is a foreign country." For Nabokov this was eternally true. He was never to return to the land of his birth and instead stalked his memories of it as if they were butterflies, ecstatically pinning each to the pages of this book in a way which gives the caring reader a vicarious joy. He writes with passion and touching love of his family, his homes, his teachers and his country and in doing so achieves with Tolstoyan grace his goal of recreating something very like the actual past. A remarkable book and an exercise in precise writing to daunt any accomplished novelist. No one does it better than Nabokov.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars entering the mind of a genius 23 May 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This memoire filled me with awe for one of the truly greatest writers of the 20C. You get the most astonishingly vivid portrait of how he thinks (or how he wants you to think he thinks), in an array of beautiful stories and the most vivid of memories. His views of a vanished Russia and then the emigre community before the Nazis took over are rendered in their full sensuality and comic vision; so are his early years in America. His first experience of writing poetry, in a kind of inspired trance, is destined to become a great classic of literature. He even write amazing captions to the photos in the book: I have remembered for 25 years how he described slapping at a mosquito in the night.

TO be sure, in spite of being a genius, he views are limited and sometimes stunted. But he can't be everything to everyone: if you take what he can give, it is well worth the ride and then some. I wanted to know what the man was like who wrote Lolita, and this was the best place I could find, even as he manipulates and distorts. His is one way to measure a life.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
So starts Nabokov in this excellent, impressionistic, nostalgic, deeply reflective memoir; an idyll to a privileged childhood in the last days of Czarist Russia. He goes on to say that: "...this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timelessness is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage." Having recently lost a friend to the eternal darkness, re-reading Nabokov, who made the most of that brief period of light, is cathartic.

Nabokov was born in 1899, and raised on an estate outside St. Petersburg, before it became Leningrad, and even longer before it reverted to its original name. He chased butterflies as a boy, which turned into a lifetime avocation as a renown lepidopterist. Like all of us, he is an exile from his youth, and wears it more than most, but he was twice exiled more: first from Russia as the Bolsheviks seized power, and then from Europe, when the Nazis were ascendant, finally finding an accommodating life in America. His family was part of the tiniest sliver of the Russian population, the very elite; the ones who are the subject of so many books, and the fantasies that the readers include themselves in. He learned to speak English before Russian, and his family would "winter" in Biarritz. He makes clear, in a reasonably convincing way the basis for his nostalgia: "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... to yearn...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book 6 Mar 2011
By Eponine
Not only does this book provide fascinating insights into the genesis of some of Nabokov's most famous works, it also documents a vanished world in its evocation of pre-revolutionary Russia. It contains passages so beautiful that you read them again and again, and profoundly moving reflections on time and memory. Highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime - Enchanting 12 Nov 2009
'Speak Memory' is the essential companion for anyone reading Nabokov's fictional works. The writing simply flows across the brain and is easier to read than Proust. I see 'SM' as an extension of what Proust was trying to achieve by transcribing memory into art; however if you can only read English, then reading Proust can be a little disatisfying (sic?) as he's always presented through a translator - no such worries with Nabokov who loved the Englsih language so much to become the greatest stylist since Joyce.

Reading 'SM' can give yourself a personal perspective on your own past and memory and makes one realise that we all have a vault of inspiration within our own minds in which to write about.
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