It’s hard to properly write the title for this memoir in the boxes on this site because it has a comma in the title and that gums up the works a little.
The title is an apostrophe, telling Memory to Speak. I don’t mean to explain that to you, but for all the years I knew of this title and thought about reading it, I couldn’t ever make sense of it. I read Harry Potter in high school and didn’t the joke of Diagon Alley until I was 30, so…
This is ostensibly an autobiography of Nabokov’s first 30 years or so until he started writing fiction. He published a dozen or so novels, and he discusses some of the germs of those novels in this autobiography, which makes me more interested in a few particular ones, but for the most part this is family history, hagiography of grandparents, and then his own very sentimental (kind of!) sense of his own childhood before shipping off to Germany and beyond during the Russian Revolution (something he considers a kind of deus ex machina in his own life). I had sort of generated a sense of Nabokov’s life as a counterrevolutionary since in part his novels were involved in samizdat, the smuggling of novels into Soviet Russia. The most famous of his novels to be handed around was Invitation to a Beheading, which discusses someone being held by an authoritarian state (and along side The Master and the Margarita and Doctor Zhivago was one of most revered and smuggled books as it promoted anti-Soviet sentiment), but reading this, I just don’t think Nabokov cared that much. He was a brilliant writer, a kind of dilettante, and a displaced nobleman, but just not particularly revolutionary. Which is fine! because his writing does contain all of the seeds of revolution in a way, the sense of the future normal life beyond.