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Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (1947)

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,623443,510 (4.18)168
This book, first published in 1951 as Conclusive evidence and then assiduously revised in 1966, examines Nabokov's life and times while offering incisive insights into his major works, including Lolita, Pnin, Despair, The gift, The real life of Sebastian Knight, and The defense.
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» See also 168 mentions

English (42)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Pretentious language, not inviting unless you have an appreciation (but why read Nabokov if you don't?). It felt like he was holding me at a distance, taking the academic view, but then he would surprise me with some vulnerable detail or self-deprecatory vignette. It's just how the man writes, even when writing about himself, and his descriptions are beautiful. Early on he reveals where his mastery of English originates: it was the first language he could read and write.

Grown accustomed to the style, it was easier to appreciate the fun stories about childhood hijinks, the uncle who gave up his ticket on the Titanic, his fascination with butterflies, his first loves, etc. There's also some insights into pre-revolutionary (and revolutionary) Russian life, although he had the sheltered perspective of a youth among the nobility and makes few political comments until the exile. There's tragedy too, the death of his father especially. He's offended by sympathize with his loss of fortune in the revolution, something he was never bothered by and doesn't want to feel otherwise about. Russia was knocked out of World War One just in time to avoid his being of age to join it, and the same with the White Army's attempt to defeat the Bolsheviks, a different kind of fortune. The exile stings him, the inability to return home and see again the land of memories.

Ostensibly this memoir covers the years from his birth in 1899 up to 1940, but the last twenty years of that period are squeezed into its final fifty pages. This covers his exile from Russia, his study at Cambridge and a breezy look at his years in Europe. He draws a veil over the romance with his wife but ends with reflections on bringing up his son. While it's not stated explicitly, Nabokov implies the full-circle that a new father experiences from having lived his childhood to reliving it through his child. It's a strong note to end on. ( )
  Cecrow | Mar 12, 2024 |
Nabokov is a weirdo. His best characters are also oddballs: Humbert Humbert, the delusional pedophile, or Charles Kinbote the insane romantic. His novels demonstrate the immorality of living in a fictional, constructed reality. Humbert believes that he lives in a world where a relationship with a young girl is viable and ideal. Kinbote's parasitic relationship with his neighbor John Shade is based on his (imagined) kingship of an obscure European country. This personal history demonstrates the way people construct a world from their memories that may or may not bear any resemblance to reality.

Despite the fact that he lived through some of the most tumultuous events in human history, Nabokov does not react with the fervor that one would expect. Like a good novelist, he is more concerned with the minute details that percolate from his speaking memory: the seasonal changes of flora and fauna on his family estate, the peccadilloes of his nannies and tutors, his hobbies (butterflies and chess problems). His mother and father are described somewhat, but Nabokov does not seem to really be close to them - his family relations are confined to rigid, Victorian formality. He writes that his brother Sergey is "a mere shadow in the background of my richest and most detailed recollections." The tutors who somewhat incompetently guided his intellectual development are more fully fleshed out.

What makes Nabokov so brilliant is his unexpected, eccentric view of the world and how he delights in presenting this view through the playground of language. A lot of Speak, Memory is overwritten, in the sense that he often goes down the rabbit hole of description and dares his reader to come up for air. The details are precise and patchwork: following the thread of his memories presents a major challenge for the casual reader. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
Nabokov talán legjellegzetesebb írói tulajdonsága az a tündéri nagyképűség, amivel nekiül a könyveinek. A Szólj, emlékezet! elméletileg például önéletrajz, de aki a hagyományos önéletrajzok szerelmese, attól még simán gyűlölheti. Nabokov tulajdonképpen nem mesél semmit magáról, egyszerűen megfogja az emlékezet nevű (már elnézést) tehéntőgyszerű képződményt, és kifacsar belőle mindent, amit csak lehet. Az eredmény egy érzésekből, képekből, villanásokból álló lírai kollázs, helyenként tömény, mint a málnaszörp, de Vladimir úgy van vele, hogy majd az olvasó felhígítja magának, ha úgy akarja. A Szólj, emlékezet!-tel nem fognak megbarátkozni, akik szerint az irodalom 1.) könnyed ebéd utáni séta egy hűvös allén, gesztenyefák alatt, belátható távolságban kávézóterasz, hűsítő itallal 2.) sziklás, puszta, csupasz és kövecses táj, amin az ember átvánszorog, miközben rettentő dolgok nyitjára lel. Nabokov könyvei inkább ravasz, talán értelmetlen sakkfeladványok, villanásnyi időre megpillantott, aztán továbblibbenő színes pillangók, céltalan, de káprázatos vetődések egy kapustól, miközben a közönség gólt kiált. Szépek, na. ( )
  Kuszma | Jul 2, 2022 |
how hard it is to mine the actual past, instead of the invented past. I don't fully believe the man, but I believe his love for his own childhood which has led him to create a wonderfully complete terrain . . . even though some of it is doubtless spun out of the rags of memory, it's spun with such desire, you forgive it, and even more, you permit yourself to believe it. ( )
  AnnKlefstad | Feb 4, 2022 |
38. Speak, Memory : An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1966
format: 302-page paperback
acquired: August 2020, from a Goodwill
read: Jul 24 – Aug 2
time reading: 13:15, 2.6 mpp
rating: 4
locations:
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

This one I was happy to finish. Because it was difficult and slow to work through, and really evasive, although rewarding in its own odd way.

I saw reviewers comment on how self-indulgent this is, and also how evocative it is. It was mainly, for me, impenetrable. I learned a lot about the natural magic of well-maintained wealthy Russia summer estates, of hunting butterflies, of the awkwardness of English and French governesses and the eccentric personal tutors of various backgrounds. Nabokov's family was crazy wealthy, even as his father was politically liberal (and influential). But this left him prominently caught between or outside the Russian red and white forces in the Revolution, and forced the family to flee into a ruined exile. His father was later assassinated, or actually shot while shielding a colleague from an assassin (an assassin who apparently did well later in Nazi Germany). Vladimir Nabokov was left a permanent exile, and caught into a life of before and after. This is mainly about that lost Russian childhood, and his lost summers in the family's country estate.

Nabokov tells us he doesn't regret the loss of that fanciful life and, as he tells us so little about how he feels, I'm tempted to believe him. This is a very frustrated book for anyone looking to learn about the formation of this author. I was looking for that, and found my desperately looking to pin down anything solid. I was grasping at fog. Within this curious atmospheric construction, he reveals nothing.

2021
https://www.librarything.com/topic/333774#7570843 ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Aug 4, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nabokov, Vladimirprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boyd, BrianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jaskari, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
To Vera
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.
Quotations
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.
While the scientist sees everything that happens in one point of space, the poet feels everything that happens in one point of time.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is the 1966 "autobiography revisited". Please do not combine with the early autobiography published as Conclusive evidence.
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This book, first published in 1951 as Conclusive evidence and then assiduously revised in 1966, examines Nabokov's life and times while offering incisive insights into his major works, including Lolita, Pnin, Despair, The gift, The real life of Sebastian Knight, and The defense.

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