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Speak, Memory an Autobiography Revisited by…

Speak, Memory an Autobiography Revisited (original 1947; edition 1966)

by Vladimir Nabokov

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Title:Speak, Memory an Autobiography Revisited
Authors:Vladimir Nabokov
Info:G. P. Putnam's Sons (1966), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:own, read, nonfiction, 2012, Nov.

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Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov (1947)

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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
I found this book changed my reading habits entirely - slowing me right down. I often put it aside, sometimes for weeks, yet still I was engaged with it. Nabokov's style is so beautifully considered and playful that it was just more satisfying than other books - like chocolate mousse!
There are typical Nabokov surprises and omissions. He portrays his parents, tutors, brother and servants in great detail, butterflies and chess at length. So I was not prepared for the sudden appearance of sisters, speeding down a country lane in a motor car - this was three quarters of the way through the book (almost) without any previous mention. But they roar past and are gone for good.
Speak, memory has cast a lasting spell on me it seems. A year since finishing it, I remember much more about it than books I read last week. Delicious! ( )
1 vote cherry_red186 | Apr 12, 2014 |
Beautiful language. This book is many short vignettes. Some really swept me away others were just okay. Nabokov has a huge vocabulary and I wished that I had this on my Kindle where the dictionary is just a touch away. Overall kind of up and down. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
I love Nabokov's writing (like everyone). I don't know why I stopped reading this one. . .
  allisonneke | Dec 17, 2013 |
3.5 stars.

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?

I was promised that this book will let me into the secret. So I feel like even though 3.5 stars is not a bad score, anything less than 5 stars is an insult to the incredible reputation this has built up in my mind (as well as the formidable expectations of said recommenders).

In a way, I can totally see why people love him so much. It is hard not to be floored by the considerable talents of this prose. The sentences, at their best, are indeed delicious. Nabokov seems to me all about the sensual enjoyment of language, within a certain framework of description: Closed inside shutters, a lighted candle, Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, something-something little child, the child kneeling on the pillow that presently would engulf his humming head. -- p. 86But he isn’t always as good when it comes to bigger ideas or psychology. In fact, he has little interest in either, and when he attempts them, it often has the scent of obvious melodramatic effort to it, like bad poetry:All is still, spellbound, enthralled by the moon, fancy’s rearvision mirror. The snow is real, though, and as I bend to it and scoop up a handful, sixty years crumble to glittering frost-dust between my fingers. --p.100Like a butterfly’s unintuitively wild flight, his sentences go all over the place, and beautifully so. But his is almost the opposite of another sentence-master: Beckett. Whereas Beckett’s sentences can float like a butterfly, they also know how to sting like a bee. It can be beautiful or ugly, long or short, totally taking you off guard with its uncompromising and singular vision. Nabokov is never cruel enough in his economy, his flourishes take too long, and by the time he lands that final punch, it feels overdone, like a rubbery egg. Yes, beautiful, but heavy with labor, dripping with intention.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare him to Beckett, who afterall, has no aesthetic similarities to Nabokov. Maybe Flaubert, then, whose sentences are also beautiful in a certain traditional way, but whose economy and clarity constantly stuns and surprises with layer upon layer of psychological subtlety and humor. Clearly painstaking effort was put in the writing, and yet this effort is also hidden from the reader, so that it looks easy... natural, even. Or maybe we should bring in someone who is equally enamoured by the beauty and playful potential of language, someone like Wallace Stevens, whose words have a certain surface sheen, yet hold so many more implications beneath their enticing veneers, so much philosophical depth.

Nabokov’s strength is in impressionistic description, and in evocation. When he tries to do more, it is very hit and miss. He is like one of those guitar virtuosos getting carried away by their own flashy fingerwork, capable and impressive, but rarely are their technical skills used with the kind of artistic restraint that creates truly great songs. Of course, I am only basing this on this one book alone, so upon further reading, revisions may be in order.

That said, there were many memorable moments in this book. I didn’t truly get into it until Chapter 4, but boy was that chapter good. Chapter 5 was also great, about Mademoiselle. Chapter 14, about emigrant life, and chess puzzles, and where the stylization seemed less pronounced, was also interesting. Most of the book concerns itself with the many tutors, servants and other people who worked for and revolved around his aristocratic family; his interest in butterflies, writing poems, and wooing girls comes up later. Then social upheaval and fleeing the country. I found his voice a bit snobby and egotistical at times, which was also a turn-off. But most of the book was enjoyable enough, though nowhere near the heights they reached in my hype-induced imagination. ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
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 Russian. This re-Englishing of a Russian reversion of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphoses, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before.

The book covers the years from his birth in 1899 to 1940, when he, his wife and son immigrated to the US. It begins with his Russian boyhood, followed by his émigré years in Europe. It covers his tutors, his passion for butterflies, a bit about his synesthesia, his coming-of –age, his first girlfriends, his writing and poetry. You clearly understand where he came from, but that is NOT the glory of the book. What is astonishingly good is how he describes memories. What a vocabulary! Words, words and more words. Adjectives and unusual verbal constructions. It is magical. If you want simple wording, I guess this is not for you though.

Since what is so stupendous about the book is the writing, I must offer you another sample. It is at the end of the book when he is soon off to America on an ocean liner. He is walking with his wife and six year-old son up a path in a park in Paris, and they spot the boat:

What I really remember about this neutrally blooming design( the park) is its clever thematic connection with transatlantic gardens and parks. For suddenly as we came to the end of its path you and I (his wife) saw something that we did not immediately point out to our child, so as to enjoy in full the blissful shock the enchantment and glee he would experience on discovering ahead the ungenuinely gigantic, the unrealistically real prototype of the various toy vessels he dottled about in his bath. There in front of us, where a broken row of house stood between us and the harbor and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale blue and pink underwear cake-walking on a clothesline or a ladies bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls a splendid ship’s funnel showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture. Find what the sailor has hidden that the finder cannot un-see once it has been seen.

I am writing what I have listened to in the audiobook version of this book, which is well narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, in a deep tone perfect for Nabokov’s words. The narration has just the right pomp!

I LOVED the book, but it might not be for everyone. ( )
  chrissie3 | Aug 14, 2013 |
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First words
The cradle rocks above the abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness; altho the two two are identical twins, man as a rule views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for at some 4500 heartbeats an hour.
A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The mirror brims with brightness; a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.
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This is the 1966 "autobiography revisited". Please do not combine with the early autobiography published as Conclusive evidence.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679723390, Paperback)

The late Vladimir Nabokov always did things his way, and his classic autobiography is no exception. No dry recital of dates, names, and addresses for this linguistic magician--instead, Speak, Memory is a succession of lapidary episodes, in which the factoids play second fiddle to the development of Nabokov's sensibility. There is, to be sure, an impressionistic whirl through the author's family history (including a gallery of Tartar princes and fin-de-siècle oddities). And Nabokov's account of his tenure at St. Petersburg's famous Tenishev School--where he counted Osip Mandelstam among his schoolmates--offers a lovely glimpse into the heart of Russia's silver age. Still, Nabokov is much too artful an autobiographer to present Speak, Memory as a slice of reality--a word, by the way, that he insisted must always be surrounded by quotation marks.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:01 -0400)

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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141183225, 0141197188

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