“I know […] of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the 1st time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged—the same house, the same people—and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.”That is a striking way to begin an autobiography. I’m reading Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited.
It is perhaps a bit early to read it, I have only read 5 novels by Nabokov so far, plus the 2 Lectures book (you need a certain understanding of Russian literature to read and appreciate The Gift, for example), but I’m familiar with some general facts of his life and his views on things, so I’m reading it anyway.
His was an interesting life—came from an aristocratic family in Russia, spoke 3 languages, went on exile and lived in many countries, created masterpieces in both his mother tongue Russian and in English, had synesthesia, was interested in butterfly-hunting and lepidopterology, and so on. All that makes an interesting subject for a memoir, and his prose is incomparable.
It is a great read so far. Check out this passage from chapter 2, about his mother:
“To love with all one’s soul and leave the rest to fate, was the simple rule she heeded. ‘Vot zapomni [now remember]’, she would say in conspiratorial tones as she drew my attention to this or that loved thing in Vyra--- a lark ascending the curds-and-whey sky of a dull spring day, heat lightning taking pictures of a distant line of trees in the night, the palette of maple leaves on brown sand, a small bird’s cuneate footprints on new snow. As if feeling that in a few years the tangible part of her world would perish, she cultivated an extraordinary consciousness of the various time marks distributed throughout our country place. She cherished her own past with the same retrospective fervor that I now do her image and my past. Thus, in a way, I inherited an exquisite simulacrum—the beauty of intangible property, unreal estate—and this proved a splendid training for the endurance of later losses. Her special tags and imprints became as dear and as sacred to me as they were to her.”Speak, Memory is a celebration of life and the senses, and of memory.