Nonfiction Mini Reviews: Speak, Memory and The Venetian Affair

Friday, February 22, 2013

Speak, Memory
by Vladimir Nabokov

The Russian author, famous for his poetic style, wrote this autobiography about the first few decades of his life. There’s no strict format, instead Nabokov reminisces about his childhood and shares morsels about his books, but it’s the language more than the content that stands out. His descriptions and prose are so vivid that it’s easy to imagine yourself chasing after butterflies along side him.

Though the book isn’t long, don’t expect a quick read. The author’s nostalgic meanderings make for a leisurely pace. His memories can be very detailed at times, though he always maintains an elegant aloofness in his imagery. Bits about his life as a lepidopterist and his interpretation of the alphabet as a variety of colors were particularly entertaining.

BOTTOM LINE: Nabokov’s lovely writing makes this autobiography interesting, but I wish I’d read his complete catalogue of work before diving into this one. It’s a must for avid fans of his work, but I would recommend starting with his fiction.

“Nothing’s sweeter or stranger than to ponder those first thrills. They belong to a harmonious world of a perfect childhood.”

The Venetian Affair
A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century
by Andrea Di Robilant

I was bored to tears by this one. It’s the nonfiction account of a love affair that took place in the 18th century in Venice. The author wrote the book after his father found a collection of letters between their ancestor, a Venetian nobleman, and a young woman. It started out strong and quickly pulled me in, but soon the story was bogged down with a nonstop back and forth.

The melodrama between the lovers, the restraints of their society and their different social classes made the whole thing impossible. I felt like the book could have been much shorter, but the author wanted to include every scrap of correspondence he had between the two.

BOTTOM LINE: The story is interesting because it’s nonfiction, but it should have been much shorter. What should be a fast-paced love story quickly became a tedious tug-of-war.

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