NABOKV-L post 0020469, Fri, 6 Aug 2010 17:22:13 -0400

"Speak Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov ...
Thursday, 5 August 2010

"Speak Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov

Speak Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov

"Speak Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov is perhaps the most elegant memoir ever written. It is also my favourite memoir,and one of my favourite books.

Nabokov's prose is so beautiful, that all one can do is sigh. My copy has vanished somewhere in my piles of books in the course of many moves, but when I find it, I will type some sentences out.

Nabokov wrote his book in English, of course, but he was trilingual (Russian, French and English) from an early age, and his English has the sort of contorted, pretzel-like strangeness one frequently finds in the (perfectly correct) English prose of the bi-lingual--I think of the prose of Sara Suleri and Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy.

Nabokov describes, as one of his chapter titles puts it, a "Past Perfect," a happy Russian boyhood, with books, and governesses, and wealth, and adoration, and time to pursue his many interests--butterflies, chess, books.

He was brilliant, and more importantly, blessed with a relatively easy-going temperament that enabled him to take the massive reverses of the Russian Revolution in his stride without bitterness, but with a philosophic, even amused, equanimity. That same essential stability of temperament enabled a happy and nourishing marriage amid all the vicissitudes of the emigre's life.

If anything, being forced to produce literature to keep afloat sharpened the saw, but to his credit, did not blunt the oddness in him that gave him the courage to produce that most odd but stylistically and linguistically beautiful and heartbreaking book, "Lolita."

A wonderful portrait of a vanished world!

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