Staff Pick – Speak, Memory: an autobiography revisited by Vladimir Nabokov

Speak, Memory (M) is a beautiful memoir. I was reading the book very slowly drowning in Nabokov’s poetic, musical, and elegant use of language.

  The use of foreign languages, sophisticated vocabulary, obscure words, and language games, – I could not have asked for a better reading experience.
Published first as a series of essays in The New Yorker and compiled as a book in 1947, Speak, Memory tells Vladimir Nabokov’s life story of his blissful Russian childhood broken into splinters of loss and exile by Russian Revolution. It covers his “happiest childhood imaginable”  as the eldest son of a privileged Russian family and that family’s escape from Bolshevik Russia in 1918. The memoir also describes author’s years at Cambridge, his European exile, and ends with his departure for the United States with his wife and son in 1940.

Horst Tappe/Archive Photos

Reading the memoir I felt Nabokov’s nostalgia and homesickness. Vladimir Nabokov once said that the most beautiful word in the Russian language was nostalghia, thinking probably about his childhood memories : “The nostalgia I have been cherishing all these years is a hypertrophied sense of lost childhood, not sorrow for lost banknotes.” – V. Nabokov, Speak Memory.

Did you know that Vladimir Nabokov was one of the world’s leading experts on butterflies ? He was  dedicated to the science of studying and classifying butterflies (lepidopterology)  as he was to writing. He writes about his butterfly passion with wit: “I have hunted butterflies in various climes and disguises…: “as a pretty boy in knickerbockers and sailor cap; as a lanky cosmopolitan expatriate in flannel bags and beret; as a fat hatless old man in shorts.”- V. Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Read the first sentence of  Speak, Memory and you will see why it is one of the most poetic and heartfelt memoirs ever written.

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov is on my top list with the two 
other great autobiographies –  Angela’s Ashes (M) by Frank McCourt and The Invisible Wall: a love story that broke barriers (M) by Harry Bernstein.


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