people learn about the world is through reading. Reading a well written book can provide the reader with a window into a life, or world that he or she might otherwise never encounter. The well written manuscript can provide a foundational understanding of a lifestyle, class or tradition to those who have never experienced and will never have the chance to experience. While a reader can gather a lot of information by reading a book, it is difficult to determine whether the information in that book is completely accurate. Even in a biography the information is only as accurate as the perception and interviews of the person who writes the text. For the most accurate and insightful information about a person or a lifestyle one usually turns to an autobiography. An autobiography usually provides an accurate picture not only of the events that occur in the subject's life, but also provides insight into the feelings and reactions to those life events through the eyes of the subject. A well written autobiography can lead the reader into an exploratory journey of the life of the subject. It is also an opportunity to immerse oneself in the family, friends, career and other aspects of the subject of the book. While autobiographies can be windows to the life of the subjects, their tone and their layout can also color the opinion of the reader about the subject. One autobiography, Speak Memory by V. Nabokov provides a perfect balance in the presentation of the life of the author. The story is actually written in a novelistic style which provides the reader with an almost fantasy setting in which to explore and understand the many facets of the author's life. While it is an unusual style of writing, for the type of book that it is, it is a style that works because it can capture the interest of readers who read fiction as well as those who prefer non-fiction. When one finishes the book one has a clear, and emotion evoking understanding that privilege is not always what it appears, and there are those born of privilege that are also extremely strong.
Vladimir Nabokov was born into a wealthy St. Petersburg family, part of the landed gentry of Russia. He was a poet by age 15. At 16, he discovered romance. A year later, he was a millionaire with his own country estate. But then the Russian Revolution blew it all away, and Nabokov and his family left their homeland forever (Edwards, 1999).
In Europe, Nabokov wrote dazzling poems and novels in Russian. In 1940, he moved to America and made the agonizing switch to writing in English. Money and fame eluded Nabokov until the 1950s with the publication of "Lolita (Edwards, 1999)."
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, is an interesting study in humanity for many reasons. He was born into a seeming lap of luxury, which in and of itself would make for an interesting story. Those who do not have priveledged lives, which includes the majority of mankind, often like to read about what it is like. They enjoy hearing about the financial aspect of it as well as how that aspect eases the life of the subjects. Reading about lifestyles one will never lead but can dream about, suffices for many which is what drives the sales of such stories up. However, while this book does in fact present the more privileged side of life in the way he was living at one point, it is a much deeper story than that. This story tells of exiles and other hardships in which the subject rises above the struggles and shows the reader exactly how strong he is. The book is a story of struggle, but also a story of intense character and moral fiber in the way he rises to the struggles (Nabokov, 1990).
When one reads the book one gets the sense that the death of the author's father is core to who he is and who he becomes in his writing of the book. The death takes an obvious toll on the author, and the impact is long lasting. It is not something that has a short lived grief life (Nabokov, 1990).
It is more than grief. It is the sense that a part of who the author is has been ripped away from him unfairly and is gone forever. One of the things that makes this book such a classic read is the very sense the reader gets about this loss. Many people have lost their fathers and the long lasting impact that the loss of the author's dad has on his life and his perceptions is something that the reader can relate to. The reader who has lost his or her own dad feels a sense of comrade with the author. The reader who knows someone who has lost their father develops a better understanding of what those people have been through. And for the readers who do not know anyone in this position. One of the things that makes this book such a success is the fact that the things the author chooses to share are things that others can relate to. While he does not dwell on the loss of his dad the story unfolds in such a manner that his absence is an ever present element in the life of the author, which is something that can be related to by many (Nabokov, 1990).
The title of the book is also an important element to its success as a classic piece of literature. Speak, Memory provides the reader with the sense that they are not reading a carefully constructed work of words, but are instead being allowed to peek into the dark corridors of this man's memory and see what he sees as he reflects on his life. It is written in such a way that one forgets there were drafts, and edits and publishers involved and instead the reader is provided with a sense of sharing the writer's innermost thoughts, emotions and recollections of life (Nabokov, 1990).
Another aspect of this book that makes it a classic is the fact that the former USSR is no longer in existence. The former Soviet Union is history and will only live on in the memories of those who experienced it. Through the telling of his life story and all of the events that occurred within his life, the author manages to preserve the late Czarist Russia from the carefully shared details of his personal life.
The author never eludes to belonging to the anti-Communist movement per se, however, with his recollections of the events that occurred in his life he does indeed provide a sort of USSR indictment.
His assessment of the former USSR deals more with the ethics and culture than politics or economics. "My old (since 1917) quarrel with the Soviet dictatorship is wholly unrelated to any question of property. My contempt for the emigre 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."
Nabakov uses a downward style to lay out the events of his life (Nabokov, 1990). His childhood is told in a style that places emphasis on the little details. The larger details of history during that time will be remembered through history books and documentaries. It is the small detail that will escape the eye if it were not for this author placing the small details in the forefront. The small details are focused on in a way that a child focuses on a single leaf or the legs of a spider, carefully, drawn out and examined thoroughly. These details of the author's life provide the reader with more than events of someone's individual life, but indeed allow the reader to grasp the daily life of all who endured the era.
The writing style of the author is at best complicated and at its worst, arrogant. The reader will spend at least 45 pages getting accustomed to the writing style. However, just as one gets used to a teacher's heavy accent and in time wonders why it was ever a question, one gets used to the style and voice of this writer and the words run together like the storytelling of an old uncle from the old country.
While the book is a solid piece of literature and a wonderful historical record for the shelves there are several things that are overlooked in its writing that should have been included. The first thing that comes to mind is that the author failed ot provide very much information about his experiences and extended stays in America. This is important information as the U.S. And the U.S.S.R. have always been considered, mutual superpowers on opposite ends of the belief system. It would have been extremely helpful had the writer included some compare and contrast information between…