Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 26 Oct 2000
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"[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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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...Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A wonderful., vivid. Autobiography by one of the most gifted writers the world has ever known.Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
This is a beautifully evocative memoir, consisting of the personal recollections of Nabakov, recalling his childhood in Imperial Russia . Read morePublished 8 months ago by S Riaz
Great book, specially if you have a bit of interest in Russian history.Published 9 months ago by Mr Jaguar
Overwritten and precious. One memoir I shall not be coming back toPublished 16 months ago by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
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. Read morePublished 19 months ago by nigeyb
Had to read for university. It was an extremely difficult read.Published 20 months ago by Miss K M Helps
I had a good grumble about this one! On me classics list this yon Nabokov has already given me earache from time to time reading Lolita and Pnin. Read morePublished 21 months ago by "Belgo Geordie"