The book was instantly called a masterpiece by the literary world.  In 2011, Time Magazine listed the book among the 100 All-TIME non-fiction books indicating that its "impressionist approach deepens the sense of memories relived through prose that is gorgeous, rich and full".  Joseph Epstein lists Nabokov’s book among the few truly great autobiographies.  While he opines that it is odd that so great a writer as Nabokov has not been able to generate passion in his readers for his own greatest passion, chess and butterflies, he finds that the autobiography succeeds "at making a reasonable pass at understanding that greatest of all conundrums, its author’s own life".  Jonathan Yardley writes that the book is witty, funny and wise, "at heart it is … deeply humane and even old-fashioned", with an "astonishing prose".  He indicates that while any autobiography is "inherently an act of immodesty", the real subject is the development of the inner and outer self, an act that can plunge the subject into “the abyss of self”.  Richard Gilbert who finds the long genealogical histories tedious notes that Nabokov apparently bullied his younger brother and "doesn’t pretend guilt, he does not feel", nor is he asking for sympathy when his idyllic world is crushed by the Russian revolution. 
As soon as we opened the door to leave, water mercilessly gushed into out house. It was all the way up to my shoulder. I gripped my brother’s hand like a vice and tried to keep him close. I looked back at my mother. She was carrying my little sister. The terror on my sister’s face was indescribable. She buried her face in my mother’s breast. Her muffled screams were drowned out by the noise of rushing water and screaming neighbors making their way for higher ground. I saw my sister’s wooden toys floating down the river that had conquered our little town.
I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.