Book review: The best actor’s autobiography ever?

May 12, 2013
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The word knows him as Mr Spock, the logical, pointy-eared Vulcan of the original Star Trek series. Well, we also think that he is the author of the best autobiography written by an actor. Yes, we know that is quite a statement and yes, we wrote that down after every careful consideration. The fact is that the autobiograpies of film stars tend to be a bit predictable – there is childhood, the struggle, the rise, the problems, all leading up to where we were when the book was written.

Nimoy does all that too in “I Am Spock.” But puts a totally different spin on the narration. As he clarifies at the very beginning of the book:

“I talk to myself. I hear voices in my head. Or, rather I sometimes talk to an aspect of myself, and I oftengear one very specific voice replying in my head – a very calm, very rational voice, one I suspect many of you are familiar with.”

Yes, that is the voice of the man whose character has made Nimoy a legend in his lifetime – that of Spock. And it is this voice that makes his autobiography such a treat to read. Every chapter in the contains a conversation between Spock and Nimoy. And honestly, we would recommend buying the book just for them, for the exchanges are priceless. Nimoy is an excellent author and his proximity with Spock is such that none of the Vulcan’s responses seem…well, illogical. Sample this:

“Nimoy: Spock, this competition between us is silly.
Spock: I am not aware that one exists.
Nimoy: Well, it does. And it’s silly. Don’t forget that I am real, and that you are only a fictitious character.
Spock: Are you sure?”

In fact, the book itself starts with a letter from Spock to Nimoy (containing the above exchange, which had occured in an earlier book titled, ironically, I Am Not Spock), and after that, it is just one rollercoaster, tracing Nimoy’s career from its outset to the point where the book was written. It is nothing short of brilliant, as Nimoy wore many hats – that of an actor, director and writer. And while Spock and Star Trek won him fame, he also played some very notable other roles: he acted in the original Mission Impossible series, he directed the brilliant Three Men and a Baby, and played the role of Vincent Van Gogh’s brother in the film Vincent.

I Am Spock narrates the story of Nimoy through all these, although a generous dollop of the book is devoted to Star Trek. And these are the bits that Trekkies will treasure – the disputes over Spock’s role, the death of Spock, his return, Nimoy’s relationship with his co-stars (he and Will Shatner were actually pretty good friends), his temporary hatred of Spock (he called his first autobiography, I Am Not Spock) and a whole lot more. If we have a complaint, it is that one gets to see far more of Nimoy the actor than the person, but the narration is so fluid – studded with those Spock-y exchanges – that you notice that only when you finish the book.

Which actually draws to an end in 1995, with Nimoy admitting to a “sense of closure” with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Of course, as this is being written, there’s a new Trek film in theatres and a new Spock too (Zachary Quinto), so some might feel that I Am Spock is a trifle outdated. Mind you, those would in all probability be the ones who never saw the original series, never tried the Vulcan greeting, or tried to think logically.

I Am Spock, we repeat, is in our opinion (it is a humble one, but there it is), the greatest autobiography written by an actor. For its humour, for its honesty…but most of all, for the manner in which an actor blends into the role that made him famous. Imagine Clint Eastwood writing a book in which he talks with The Man With No Name or Dirty Harry. Imagine Amitabhh Bachchan writing a book, and swapping lines with Vijay Dinanath Chauhan.

You get the idea? What makes I Am Spock wonderful is not purely narrative skill. Or the incidents in it. Although both are worthy of note. What will keep you turning the pages are the exchanges between an actor and his greatest role. As they say in their final exchange:

“Spcok: Our association has been most unusual and fascinating. I have…enjoyed it. Live long and prosper, Leonard.
Nimoy: I think I’ve already done the former, Spock. And – in no small part thanks to you – I’ve certainly done the latter.”

Live long and prosper, Leonard Nimoy. Et tu, Spock.

And give us another book please. For, we do not feel a “sense of closure.” It is just not…logical.

I Am Spock
Leonard Nimoy
Hyperion
360 pp
Rs 399

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