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Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 26 Oct 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (26 Oct. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141183225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141183220
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"

From the Inside Flap

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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 filled with sorrow or bitterness. Instead, the author recreates his privileged childhood, with its recurring pattern of winter in St Petersburg, the spring and summer spent at the family’s country estate and the autumn in foreign resorts. We read of the many tutors and governesses who came and went, the author and his brother’s many escapades (including boarding a ferry and leaving their nanny wringing her hands on the quay as her charges floated away and an attempted elopement with a French playmate). There is the horror of hearing his father might have died in a duel, the joy of butterfly collecting - always a passion throughout his life – his early attempts at writing poetry and his final leaving of Russia after the revolution.

Mostly, though, what we get are little snippets – beautifully written – of a world that has long gone, but which can see through the eyes of our narrator. Places, people, a way of life long since vanished, are recreated. You can almost feel the cold on carriage drives through the snow, or imagine walks in the countryside, so vivid are the descriptions. As such, it is almost not what is written, but how it is written, that is important here. The eye for detail; of the memory of a room, books on a shelf, or how it felt to wake in the morning, is what makes the book come alive. I think it is an important memoir and one which paints a portrait of a certain era and way of life which the author obviously missed, but recalled with love.
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Format: MP3 CD Verified Purchase
Nabokov's autobiography has a tangled publishing history. Installments first appeared in The New Yorker (and a few other publications) in the late 1940s; these were collected in 1951 in a volume entitled Speak, Memory in the United Kingdom and Conclusive Evidence in the United States. After publication, Nabokov consulted with his sisters and cousins, and found that some of the details were inaccurate. (Quite a common situation: much the same happened to Oliver Sacks after he published his memoir Uncle Tungsten.) Accordingly, Nabokov revised and elaborated the 1951 version to take account of the data provided by relatives; the updated and final text appeared in 1966.

Twelve of the fifteen chapters deal with Nabokov's boyhood in pre-revolutionary Russia; the remaining three describe his life as an émigré in Cambridge, Berlin and Paris in the inter-war years. Nabokov provides an exception to the rule proposed by P.G. Wodehouse that a happy childhood is a handicap for a writer: his early years appear to have been not merely happy, but idyllic, with their exotic properties of duels, troikas in the snow and peasants bathing naked in forest glades. His aristocratic, even dandyish youth is a world away from the brutal upbringing portrayed in Maxim Gorky's memoir of his childhood in 1870s Russia.

Nabokov's style was the envy of other writers:

'What startling beauty of phrase, twists of thought, depths of sorrow, bursts of wit! This was a rainbow prose that made most others look flat and gray.' (John Updike, More Matter, p.287)

His language is certainly strikingly original: he constantly finds an unexpected angle from which to approach experience.
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