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Speak, Memory (Everyman's Library) Hardcover – March 23, 1999
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Even if you already own Nabokov's earthy, otherworldly account of his astounding life, you must buy this 1999 edition. And if you've never read Speak, Memory, you must do so at once. This volume is essential because it includes the unpublished last chapter, a pseudo-review comparing Speak, Memory with another, nonexistent memoir called When Lilacs Last. (That title refers to Whitman's poem on Lincoln's assassination and to the lilacs of Nabokov's childhood home) Chapter 16 is a key to what the imaginary reviewer accurately calls a "unique freak as autobiographies go," revealing its novel-like nature and unifying themes and images (chess, puzzles, spirals, jewels, rainbows, exile, the stained-glass shadow patterns that the future casts on the present). Maybe Nabokov thought he gave too much away, and one sees the formal superiority of ending the book with chapter 15. But the added essay is a gem that dazzles and illuminates.
You have to consult biographies like Brian Boyd's for the full, remarkable facts of Nabokov's life. A millionaire at 17 (his sister danced in Diaghilev gowns with Fabergé gems at the Winter Palace), repeatedly exiled, forced to bust out of one chrysalis after another into new lives, the writer retained only the infinite wealth of his memory and art. This book is a mosaic shaped by a mind so metaphorical that, as a babe, Nabokov perceived letters as colors, the alphabet as a rainbow.
The loss of his father is at Speak, Memory's core. This memoir is worth owning for a single paragraph alone, about the sight of Nabokov senior being tossed aloft by grateful peasants he'd been generous to--a dozen or so with locked arms flinging him up in a hip-hip-hooray ritual.
There, for an instant, the figure of my father in his wind-rippled white summer suit would be displayed, gloriously sprawled in midair.... Thrice, to the mighty heave-ho of his invisible tossers, he would fly up ... and then there he would be, on his last and loftiest flight, reclining, as if for good, against the cobalt blue of the summer noon, like one of those paradisiac personages who comfortably soar, with such a wealth of folds in their garments, on the vaulted ceiling of a church while below, one by one, the wax tapers in mortal hands light up to make a swarm of minute flames in the mist of incense, and the priest chants of eternal repose, and funeral lilies conceal the face of whoever lies there, among the swimming lights, in the open coffin.Nabokov recaptures the paradise of his youth, and acquits himself of the coldness of which some accuse him. He plays literary games, but he plays for keeps. --Tim Appelo
From Library Journal
Published as Conclusive Evidence in 1951 and later revised in 1966, Nabokov's title has been further updated with an additional, previously unseen chapter. Considering his profile in world literature, this is essential for public and academic libraries.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Everything, of course, looks easy and effortless in Nabokov's hands.Read more ›
For the most part, Nabokov's mission here is literally to let his memory speak. In so doing he recreates late czarist Russia in loving, painstaking detail. While to the best of my knowledge Nabokov was never particularly identified with the anti-Communist émigré movement, this book is its own kind of indictment of the USSR. The case it lays out is not the political or the economic one but the historical and cultural one. As he says:
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.
And finally: I reserve for myself the right to yearn after an ecological niche:
...Beneath the sky Of my America to sigh For one locality in Russia.Read more ›
And yet Speak, Memory is fundamentally dislikeable. The tone grates: imagine a whole book written in the style of Nabokov's forewards - arrogant, didactic, humorless. That's what nearly kills it - the lack of Nabokovian playfulness. There are a couple of real-life events that are so shocking that they verge on farce, but in general the tone is reverent and uncritical, and the madness of Nabokov's greatest narrators has no place here.
The young Nabokov is thoroughly dislikeable (but then so is the Nab of the forewards), 'something of a bully' as he admits, but the episode with his brother was shameful, disgusting, and made me not want to read one of his books again. I'll get over that, but it's says something that one finds that monster Humbert more sympathetic than his creator. Of course, the narrator here isn't unadulterated Nab; he's as much a creation as any of his characters. He's just not a very interesting one, neither insane nor funny. As Michael Wood suggests, the absences in this very word-, idea-, people- and event-heavy book are some kind of a failure. What we're left with is literature's most stunning prose poem since Woolf's To The Lighthouse, with a big black hole in the centre.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found this book very interesting. Valdimir Nabokov writes beautifully.Published 25 days ago by Chelsea
The finest writing in English by an ESL writer that I have ever had the pleasure of reading (Nabokov learned to write in English before he learned to write in Russian). Read morePublished 1 month ago by Stephen Smith
Strangely beautiful. Jumps around a bit. Well worth sticking on your Kindle.Published 2 months ago by O Otvos
Some of the writing is quite good but I found a few episodes over written and melodramatic and I wasn't in the mood for that this summer.Published 2 months ago by David Seligman
This the great novelist's autobiography, but many chapters feel like chapters of a novel, often built around a theme, even as they move through Nabokov's extraordinary upbringing... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Brian Lewis
Nabokov has never been a favorite of mine--at least, other than LOLITA, which I think is brilliant. But this memoir is special: a gifted writer capturing a world that disappeared... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Pamela Mccorduck