‘Speak, Memory’ by Vladimir Nabokov
Although published in 1951, any person serious about literature would do well to read or reread Nabokov’s captivating autobiography, if not for the rapture of his complicated life, then for the beauty of his syntactical architecture. A master of form devoted to meaning, Nabokov relays the truths of a man twice removed from his home country of Russia, once by revolution and again with the rise of the iron curtain. He renders through complex but clear sentence structure the pains of diaspora and the call to home which he can never truly answer. Within this beautiful prose he also provides insight into his master works Lolita, Despair, and The Gift. He dangles before the reader a maze of sentences each providing a decadent feast for those who value—above all—the meaning-making capacity of provoking syntax.
Even his first sentence tells the reader more about his lost home and life than many lesser writers could conjure in a length of chapters, “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Although he plays at the duplicity of life and death, so does his opening sentence relay the pain of a man who can never truly return to the womb of his mother country nor escape its call through death. Nabokov rewards the keen reader. He displays the full power of a prose master and does so with all the beauty of a life richly lived.
For those readers who seek reward through art, no writer has ever provided as much in their autobiography as Vladimir Nabokov.
Review by Justyn Hardy