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Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited | [Vladimir Nabokov]

Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

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.
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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

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.

©1947-1951, 1967 Vladimir Nabokov (P)2010 Audible, Inc

What the Critics Say

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

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (173 )
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  •  
    meredith adelaide, Australia 03-16-12
    meredith adelaide, Australia 03-16-12 Member Since 2010
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    "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.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 08-14-13
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 08-14-13 Member Since 2011
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    "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.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 08-09-12
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 08-09-12

    A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

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    "Speak, Mnemosyne!"

    Probably one of my favorite autobiographies to date (beaten only perhaps by the Education of Henry Adams). Realistically, it is 4.56 stars given the narrative gaps (most were written as individual pieces for Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker and Harpers). The section on butterflies (Chapter 6), his Russian education (Chapter 9), and his portrait of his mother (Chapter 2) were absolutely AMAZING. Other chapters were just as good, and only a couple were less than what I hoped. It is interesting to think of Nabokov writing these in English in Massachusetts from his Russian memories and then translating them in the 1950s back into Russian and then using the Russian version to edit a new edition in 1966. The human mind, with all its varieties, is an phenomenal thing...but Nabokov's mind and the prose it produces makes me want to just lay down and lick the back of my own head in jealousy.

    24 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ian Los Angeles, CA, United States 03-13-12
    Ian Los Angeles, CA, United States 03-13-12 Member Since 2012

    Filmmaker

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    "Marvelous!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. I love Nabokov, so I may be a bit biased, but this book illuminates so much more than just a man and his life, and more than just his life's work. It is filled with insight into many aspects of life. It's also a very interesting history told through a wise and eloquent lens.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Well, Nabokov I suppose. Also Vera.


    Which character – as performed by Stefan Rudnicki – was your favorite?

    Stefan's voice seems perfect for every aspect of this book. I very much enjoyed it.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Chapter 11 section 2. A simple but beautiful notion about life, art, and the artist.


    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Victoria Barrie, ON, Canada 09-14-12
    Victoria Barrie, ON, Canada 09-14-12 Member Since 2011
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    "I wish the narrator was different"
    Any additional comments?

    Nabokov is a Master of words, the memoir itself is beautifully written, but I regret spending the money on this audiobook. Let the narrator's Slavic surname not fool you - he butchers Russian names and titles hopelessly. Of course, if you are not familiar with Russian, it wouldn't be a problem, but I couldn't help but cringe every time.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-21-14
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-21-14 Listener Since 2009

    Audible obsessed lifelong learner.

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    "Strange biograpical choice for me but worth it"

    I have never read any of Nabokov's books so this was a strange pick up but I am glad I picked it up. It was interesting to get insight into the life of the writer and his prose were very memorable. His quote of he Gnomes that were in the yard the year he read War and Peace and how they will always be a part of the book to him was interning insight on how a books meaning is molded by our environment.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CAC 01-25-14
    CAC 01-25-14

    CAC

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    "Glorious memoir"
    Would you listen to Speak Memory again? Why?

    Glorious memoir, gloriously read by Stefan Rudnicki, who takes great care with his Russian pronunciation (much appreciated!). I'm picking my next Nabokov on the basis of Rudnicki's reading.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susannah Corona, CA, United States 07-31-11
    Susannah Corona, CA, United States 07-31-11

    I am musician and mom of several little musicians. Love good narrators. Love good stories. Love Audible.

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    "Fascinating Listen"

    I was traveling to Russia and thought I'd take this along since much takes place in St. Petersburg. This is not an easy book nor everyone's cup of tea. That said, it is a stunning account by the author of his early years prior to 1940; he examines the question of "who am I?" through stories, fragments of memories and a robust portrait of his father. The writing is addictive, despite, or maybe because of the author's attitude being quite humorless, definitely arrogant and sometimes didactic. I watched a youtube video interview of Nabokov, and the real man was quite bristly and he had an odd, odd accent (despite his Cambridge education.) The narrator (Rudnicki) does a clever job of capturing the real man, without alienating us. I don't think I would have read this book on paper; listening to it was made easy by this production. The narrator handles the long, winding passages with ease. It was a delicious listen.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bradley Metzner USA 06-12-11
    Bradley Metzner USA 06-12-11 Listener Since 2007

    "Jameson"

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    "Wonderful text, torpid reader"

    It is pleasant to have Nabokov as a companion on long car journeys, but why has S. Rudnicki been made the voice of Nabokov in so many of these audio recordings? He is a lifeless, slow, plodding reader, with a rebarbative accent. COuldn't they have found someone with a bit of dramatic dash, or at least with a pleasant voice?

    10 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    claire berkeley, CA, United States 10-17-14
    claire berkeley, CA, United States 10-17-14 Member Since 2009
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    "the american accent is so wrong….."

    nabokov is one of my favorite writers, and there are passages of "speak, memory" that are among my favorite in literature, like the recollection of his mother returning from a mushroom hunt.
    But I couldn't get through this - the accent is so wrong for this.
    I really tried, but it ruined it for me

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • Hussain
    Harrow, United Kingdom
    4/13/13
    Overall
    "Great!"

    Speak Memory is the first book of Nabokov's that I've read (listened to, that is) and I must say I'm not disappointed. Wonderfully written, Nabokov is The Lord of the perfect adjective. The words come sprinkling down like a light, summer shower, each drop filled with solar irredescence. A joy to listen to.

    My only reserve would be that the narrator can sometimes sound a tad monotonous, but this is rescued by the sheer quality of the writing.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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