Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited



The Pequod Review:

Speak, Memory is Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir, covering primarily the time from his birth (1899, in St. Petersburg) through his final year at Cambridge (1922), followed by a quick leap forward to 1940 when he emigrated to the United States. The book is impressionistic — a collection of scattered memories from Nabokov’s past — which allows him to muse on a variety of subjects: the process of learning a new language, the development of consciousness and self-awareness, the impact of the environment versus genetics, and the formation of various types of love. While it is too minor and quotidian to rank with his best work, Nabokov has a keen appreciation for the details of childhood. And his prose remains enchanting:

I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness―in a landscape selected at random―is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern―to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.


Sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and the crudest rituals. It is a mental torture I find debasing... I simply cannot get used to the nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius.