Speak Memory

  • by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
  • 9 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From one of the 20th century's great writers comes one of the finest autobiographies of our time. Speak, Memory, first published in 1951 as Conclusive Evidence and then assiduously revised in 1966, is an elegant and rich evocation of Nabokov’s life and times, even as it offers incisive insights into his major works, including Lolita, Pnin, Despair, The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and The Luhzin Defense.
One of the 20th century’s master prose stylists, Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899. He studied French and Russian literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, then lived in Berlin and Paris, where he launched a brilliant literary career. In 1940 he moved to the United States, and achieved renown as a novelist, poet, critic, and translator. He taught literature at Wellesley, Stanford, Cornell, and Harvard. In 1961 he moved to Montreux, Switzerland, where he died in 1977.

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Audible Editor Reviews

This audiobook pairs two classic voices — the distinctive turns of phrase of seminal Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov and the equally recognizable baritone of prolific narrator Stefan Rudnicki. Speak Memory, a book of autobiographical essays first collected in 1951, has been hailed as one of the best works of nonfiction in the 20th-century. The tight connection between masterful prose and richly contemplative voice work assures that nothing in this fascinating self-treatment is lost upon the listener.
Nabokov spends little time discussing his writing, but his creative processes are spectacularly evident as he examines his own life from the history of his parents up through his immigration to the United States in 1940. Rudnicki captures all the little excitements of boyhood, from building forts to the first summertime crush, and hobbies of chess and butterflies that would become Nabokov's lifelong obsessions. On the run first from the czar and then from revolutionary Russian politics, Nabokov led a very international young life that parallels Rudnicki's own travels, making the accents particularly on point. Rudnicki's Polish heritage affords him the slightly drawn out Slavic vowels, and he displays an impressive command of the author's several languages — English, Russian, French, and even a bit of German.
What emerges is a nuanced portrait of an exceptional and unique figure in literary history whose powers of delicate perception are thankfully matched by Rudnicki's precise and vibrant interpretation. Rendered in a charismatic style deeply befitting a man as charming as Nabokov, there is a lot to love in this audiobook. Even those who have already long treasured the text will find this a worthwhile listen. One cannot say that it sounds like Nabokov doing the reading, but if the author had a choice in the matter, surely Stefan Rudnicki delivers the resonant voice that Nabokov would have chosen for his audio avatar. —Megan Volpert

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What the Critics Say

"Beguiling and superbly produced, this bittersweet rendition will appeal to lovers of Nabokov and those experiencing their first taste." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

this inspired me to read Nabokov's novels

a beautifully written biography that captures much of Nabokov's life with particular
reference to his childhood. From this perspective Nabokov's perceptiveness and
remarkable memory give the listener a unique prism from which to view the unfolding of his
own life and those around him. Small details like the muff that his mother raises to her
face to keep out the cold as she is drawn along by the sleigh take on an importance equal
to many more weighty events drawn by the story.
Because it is told from the point of reference of an emigre, looking back to a world in
Russia now almost entirely gone, there is a poignancy in much of what is related.
Some of the people who inhabit the story sadly never survive the political turmoil and wars
of the times. In a sense the writer pays remarkable homage to these people, swept away
by the tide of history.
I would have chosen a different narrator for this particular story, but otherwise it was a
delight.
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- meredith

Fabulous lines!

This book is amazing, not for the story it tells but for how that story is written. It consists of essays written and published at different times and places, but it all holds together. Each chapter follows the other in basically chronological order. Let the author speak for himself:

For the present final edition of Speak Memory I have not only introduced basic changes and copious additions into the initial English text, but have availed myself of the corrections I made while turning it into Russian. This re-Englishing of a Russian reversion of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphoses, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before.

The book covers the years from his birth in 1899 to 1940, when he, his wife and son immigrated to the US. It begins with his Russian boyhood, followed by his émigré years in Europe. It covers his tutors, his passion for butterflies, a bit about his synesthesia, his coming-of –age, his first girlfriends, his writing and poetry. You clearly understand where he came from, but that is NOT the glory of the book. What is astonishingly good is how he describes memories. What a vocabulary! Words, words and more words. Adjectives and unusual verbal constructions. It is magical. If you want simple wording, I guess this is not for you though.

Since what is so stupendous about the book is the writing, I must offer you another sample. It is at the end of the book when he is soon off to America on an ocean liner. He is walking with his wife and six year-old son up a path in a park in Paris, and they spot the boat:

What I really remember about this neutrally blooming design( the park) is its clever thematic connection with transatlantic gardens and parks. For suddenly as we came to the end of its path you and I (his wife) saw something that we did not immediately point out to our child, so as to enjoy in full the blissful shock the enchantment and glee he would experience on discovering ahead the ungenuinely gigantic, the unrealistically real prototype of the various toy vessels he dottled about in his bath. There in front of us, where a broken row of house stood between us and the harbor and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale blue and pink underwear cake-walking on a clothesline or a ladies bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls a splendid ship’s funnel showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture. Find what the sailor has hidden that the finder cannot un-see once it has been seen.

I am writing what I have listened to in the audiobook version of this book, which is well narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, in a deep tone perfect for Nabokov’s words. The narration has just the right pomp!

I LOVED the book, but it might not be for everyone.

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- Chrissie

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-23-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios