Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
One of my favorite memoirs is Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak Memory. I admit that my recommendation isn’t unbiased. I’m a huge Nabokov fan; he’s a writer’s writer, a prose stylist almost without peer, one of the greatest writers of English prose, which is amazing when you consider the fact that he isn’t a native speaker! If you love Nabokov, you really should have read this book already. If you’ve never read Nabokov, then you should start here. It’s not only one of my favorite memoirs, but one of my favorite books ever
What sets Speak Memory apart is its refusal to be a conventional memoir. Rather than begin at birth, finish at the present and recount the events of his life in a linear fashion, Nabokov wrote a dazzlingly impressionistic portrait of his youth in pre-Revolution Russia. Instead of biographical data, the book is all minor and major details of his youth. They are poignant little vignettes of a world that was essentially destroyed by the revolution, and his memory for senses and scenes is astounding. He doesn’t explain them, but merely presents them in his beautiful language, and all throughout, the book is embued with love. Speak Memory is a memoir of Nabokov’s nostalgic love for his home, for Russia, for his mother and father. It’s an absolutely beautiful book.
(It’s available in print and audiobook CD versions.)