Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Fathers and Sons" by Ivan Turgenev

First of all, I must say that this book was a significant departure from my modus operandi. However, I have recently vowed to read more quality literature, and I believe "Fathers and Sons" qualifies as such. Turgenev wrote this book in 1861, and at the time, enraged Russians, young and old, for its progressive views. Turgenev is said to have significantly influenced later great writers Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. How could I walk away from such a recommendation? (By the way, thanks John Cole!)
The story follows a young college graduate, Arkady, and his recent acquaintance and hero, Bazarov (who is the central character of the book), who are on their way to visit Arkady's father. Bazarov is a self-proclaimed "nihilist", or one that rejects preconceived ideas and old order. He questions everything, believes in nothing, including the arts and l'amour. Bazarov's appearance in the household is the equivalent of throwing a grenade in the middle of things, flustering the old folks. After visiting Arkady's family, the two friends move on to visit relatives in a nearby town and make the acquaintance of the lovely ice-queen Mme. Anna Odintsov and her sister Katya. Bazarov falls in love with Anna (so much for not believing in love!), but is rejected. The traveling dudes move on to visit Basarov's parents, who are heartsick over the absence of their son in their lives. Basarov is in a foul mood, and he fights with both his friend and his family and they leave to return to Arkady's family. Arkady starts to question what planet Bazarov is from, and they part ways unamiably. There is a tragic and bittersweet ending, of which I will not ruin for you!
The genius in this novel is not the lack of plot (which Turgenev is famous for) but the banter between Bazarov, who I find to be quite the rude, insensitive jerk most of the time, and those he comes in contact with. Turgenev is masterful at letting us know, without overdoing it, what is in each character's soul and what they are thinking. We are the proverbial fly on the wall in these sometimes hilarious, sometimes intimate, sometimes heated exchanges. We see incredible character development and transformation of each person in this novel, primarily due to their interaction with Bazarov. Bazarov himself morphs from the steadfast nihilist to a man, not once, but twice, that falls for a woman. I absolutely loved this book, but would have served myself better to have read it in one or two sittings (I was hopelessly distracted by children and politics here lately). You must not expect what you are probably used to in a fiction read, but just ride the wave of Turgenev's brilliance.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm not sure this is going to be my sort of thing - the only non-plot based novel that I have liked has been 'The Gathering' I'll give the first chapter a try though.