on June 13, 2004
This is such a wonderful novel about two young men returning home from University - Arkady Kirsanov and his friend, Yevgeny who is known mostly as Basarov. Firstly they stop at Arkady's father's poor farm - but he is a landowner. Arkady's father's name is Nikolai and living with him is his brother Pavel. What contrasts we immediately meet - Nikolai whose wife has died (Arkady's mother) but who is living with one of the local peasant women (Fenitchka) and has a son by her, and Pavel whose playboy life collapsed when the princess he hoped to marry rejected him.
So here we have two young men with all the potential of their living beings contrasted with Nikolai and Pavel and their strange life outcomes. What complicates the matter is that Basarov is a nihilist - someone called him the first 'angry young man'. He is cynical and argumentative - prepared to accept Nikolai's simple innocence and honesty in living, unprepared to tolerate Pavel's Anglophile airs and graces.
The young men move on to Basarov's parent's place (simple folk living a traditional old age) but on the way meet Madame Odintsova - quickly called Odintsov (presumably because she is widowed). They spend some time with Odintsov and we learn her name is Anna Sergyevna. Anna lives with her younger sister Katya and and older aunt. The contrasts are once again evident. Anna has no feeling for Arkady at all and quickly Arkady and Katya become friends as Anna and Basarov fascinate each other. But Basarov is appalled at his romantic feelings - not what he expects a nihilist should experience! And when Odintsov's flirting causes him to express that love he has to flee to his parent's place horrified by what he has felt.
But he is no more at home with his parents whose love and affection overwhelms him, so the young men return to the Kirsanov's farm, stopping briefly at Odintsov's country residence where they are not really welcomed. However Arkady, home again, is ill at ease and has to return to Odintsov, leaving Basarov behind. What happens at Odintsov's residence is perhaps not unexpected, what happens at the Kirsanov's farm - with Fenitchka and Pavel is remarkable. Eventually Basarov joins Arkady at Madame Odintsov's before returning home. The outcomes I will leave to Turgenev.
As a mid-fifties person myself I can readily identify with Nikolai and Pavel who see themselves as old, although they too are only fiftyish. But we all have memories and I can see myself as Basarov and Arkady - in some ways each of them, but in no ways entirely either of them. While, as a young man, I too had ideals (anarchist rather than nihilist) that I used to obscure other things in my life, subsequent experiences in my life have lead me to regret that path my life took for a while. Turgenev's outcome for Basarov is entirely in accord with my view. But what then of Pavel?
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing for me about this beautiful novel is that at the end - but not during the novel - I loved each and every one of the characters. The title of this review is a quote (p203 Konemann edition) and it is my feelings that are immensely positive from reading this book.
Other recommended reading:
For a non-Russian view of Russian people read 'Under Western Eyes' by Joseph Conrad
on August 1, 2003
"Fathers and Sons" might be Turgenev's most referred to piece of work. And it is an intelligent and well-written piece of literature, but there were a few things about the book I didn't like. Now naturally who am I to criticize the work of Turgenev. To me one of the greatest Russian authors.
Before I read this book I thought it was about the generation gap between a father and son. Demonstrating the changes which evolve generation after generation. How the young challenge the social conventions of the times. And that is a theme that is played in the book. But, here's comes one of the faults I have with the book. While reading the beginning pages I began to notice who the book starts to revolve around. Mostly the characters Bazarov and Arkady. And the older characters namely Arkady's father Nikolai and his uncle Pavel are not used enough. And this creates a conflict. Throughout the book we read about the younger generations view of life. But we don't get to read about the older characters views enough. There can't be much of a conflict if we don't get to hear both sides. We mostly hear Bazarov's views but he is rarely "challenged" to defend them. One of the best chapters in the book has Bazarov and Arkady arguing with Nikolai and Pavel about where society is now and where it was.
Another problem I had with the book deals with the characters Anna Sergeyevna and her sister Katya. At first both Bazarov and Arkady are both taken by Anna. But we come to know very little about her. We only see her through the eyes of both men. And since they are both in love with her it seems a very lovely portrait is made of her. But, is she really the person they both think she is? We are not given a strong back ground story about her past. The only thing concerning her past that is mentioned is her first marriage. Some detail is given about her father but nothing about her childhood. The same thing happens with Katya. And never once does Turgenev try to put us in both of these women shoes to see what they think of the men. That would of been interesting to know.
And finally I didn't like the way the book ends. By telling us exactly what happens to each character. I thought it was too neat. He was trying too hard to carefully wrap everything up with a bow on top. I would of preferred some mystery. It gives the reader something to think about.
I suppose many might feel I'm nit-picking. But, if it does seem that way it's only because over-all I did enjoy the book and became involved so naturally I would of liked to know more about some of the characters. And naturally I would of liked to read more about other characters.
Turgenev does give the novel a certin poetic feel. Many chapters are touching and heartfelt. I enjoyed the chapter where Nikolai thinks about his first wife. It is so vividly described. It's full of emotion. Another chapter deals with Bazarov visiting his parents and then suddenly leaving. The parents are heartbroken and so are we.
Though for all the touching moments in the book there was one chapter I found quite funny. It deals with Pavel challenging Bazarov to a duel. Pavel informs Bazarov that he "detest" him. They then start to discuss the formalities. Pavel suggest that they fight at six in the morning with pistols at a distance of ten paces. Bazarov says "At ten paces? That will do; we can detest one another at that distance." Later Bazarov starts to get a bit nervous and declares "I risk having my brains blown out." I could almost picture Woody Allen saying these lines with his stammer. It reminded me of his movie "Love and Death".
"Fathers and Sons" is an enjoyable read. It has it's rewarding moments. And I do recommend it to all Turgenev fans and those who love Russian literature. Though I admit I do perfer his novel "First Love" and his play "A Month In The Country".
*** 1\2 out of *****
Bottom-line: Poetic well-written piece of work by Turgenev. Has many touching moments are does create a nice mood throughout. Flawed but interesting.
on May 30, 2002
Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, who lived through 1818-83, is thought to be one of the finest Russian writers. He studied in Moscow, St Petersburg and Berlin, then became a strong advocate of Russia's westernization. Here we see his masterpiece "Fathers and Sons" which I personally came across through the recommendation of a close friend.
Turgenev is a master of engaging the reader through the complexities of his characters. While you may initially feel contempt for some them, the more you learn of their contrasting personalities, you will eventually love them all in the end. If not for their beliefs and actions story-wise, then for how deep and well thought-out their various histories are. You may find yourself endlessly devouring page after page, wanting to know more about these fascinating people he's created.
For me, reading this book was like opening my eyes to a world I long neglected. In the next few days, I will no doubt find myself hunting down more of his works. In "Fathers and Sons" he focuses on every character's humanity and principles, then lets it all play out with such craft and unmistakable skill. From their conflicts and influences with each other, every character develops and yet remains the same.
Every scene he creates, is depicted vividly, with descriptions of subtle details in the backgrounds bringing his world to life. From the effortless way he lets the reader see his visions, we can easily grasp the character of his creations, their moods, their thoughts, and how we can relate to their emotions. It is certainly a crime for someone who's even remotely interested in novels not to read this book. And for those who aren't, they shouldn't neglect reading this either, they might just find something they will love.
FATHERS AND SONS treats Nihilism succinctly, far more than any other book I can think of. It makes the idea easy to understand through true to life characters that we can relate to. It is important because the ideas and methods of the most notorious Nihilists-Nechayev is taken very seriously by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
Bazarov who is the hero of the novel, is skeptical of people, institutions, ideas, and all the other trappings of civilization and does not hide his willingness to go about bringing down what he rejects.
Friedrich Nietzsche put forward an argument that the corrosive effects of Nihilism would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. Nihilistic themes such as epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness--have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers in the 20th century.
The fact that patterns of nihilism were indeed a conspicuous feature of collapsing civilizations, means it should be taken seriously. Its resurgence had an effect in the collapse of states, especially in Eastern Europe. Overall, this poetically written and entertaining classical novel deserves the highest of respects. In addition, The Union Moujik, classic Russian Stories like Crime and Punishment, A Hero of Our Times, are some of the recommended books to read that not only expose the depths of ideas, but also the effects of ideas on minds that are political.
on July 31, 2002
Turgenev's Fathers and Sons is a timeless novel. Set in mid-19th century Russia it follows a few weeks in the lives of two young men, Arkadi and Bazarov. Turgenev sets the characters beliefs against each other and against themselves.
Fathers and Sons operates on many levels, a story of generation vs generation, of ideology vs love, new vs old and friend vs friend. Turgenev takes the pair on a journey through rural Russia. Each stop along the journey sets up the scenario for the tensions and revelations of the characters.
The character of Bazarov is one of the most vivid characters in literature. The timeless representation of a brash bright young man ready to teach the world everything it's doing wrong.
When Fathers and Sons was first published it caused outrage on both the right and the left in Russia. Both sides believed their characterizations were overdone and many never forgave him.
Fathers and Sons is highly recommended. Easily one of the best novels I have ever read.
on March 12, 2002
The multitude of reviews for this very famous book...Well, son, there's nothing new to say in this review. So, here are a few of the things (some trifling) that gave me such pleasure when I read this back toward the end of high school.
1. The scene early in the book between Fenitchka and Pavel Petrovitch. Later, Fenitchka confesses discomfort around Pavel, due to Bazarov's romantic advances in the garden. Was I alone in seeing a bit of the ole wist of the bachelor (which is refered to several times in the novel, apropos of Pavel) in Pavel's appreciation of Fenitchka and babe?
2. The duel between Pavel and Bazarov is masterfully and elegantly rendered. Piotr cringing behind a tree in my edition's woodcut was a bonus.
3. The melancholy that pervades the entire book. Yes, I've weaned myself on Faulkner and Chekhov, where all humor is black humor. Bazarov dying of typhus from surgical infection, Anna Sergeyevna appearing at the Illyitch abode dressed as a mourning wife, though she earlier spurned Bazarov's romantic advances...All minutely and beautifully portrayed.
4. Description! Character Development!: The moles on Arkina Illyitch's(Bazarov's mother)face, Pavel tugging his moustaches in moments of skepticism or perplexity. Madame Kukshin, with her deranged Russian volumes and compound to render dolls' heads unbreakable...Why do I love this stuff?
Russian authors...You gotta love 'em!...
on March 1, 2002
Turgenev is a master story teller, whether it takes the form of a novel or his shorter stories. This book, however, takes on special significance. Not only is it well-written, displaying the craft of the novelist as it matured in the mid-nineteeth century, but like many of his fellow Russians, he captures the imagination, themes, ideas, and sensibilities of presence that make Turgenev a twentieth-century joy to read.
This alone is sufficient warrant to read the book. But, there's equally important social reasons to read it. Turgenev is to the novel what Nietzsche is to philosophy, and that they were cotemporaneous is no mistake. "Fathers and Children" is a novel about nihilism, despair, and raw will to power in a vein too similar to Nietzsche to be ignored.
What makes Turgenev singularly important is his writing one of the truly "post-modern" novels as far as his themes go, but writing within the classical tradition of a well-developed plot, story, characters, ideas, and psychology. In many ways, Turgenew anticipates Freud, Kierkegaard, Joyce, and Eliot, while retaining the style of Hawthorne, Austin, and de Balzac. It's a wonderful synthesis -- a masterful story with critically important ideas and themes.
on November 15, 2001
This was required reading for my Russian literature class because it is considered a classic. My favorite part of this book is the fact that it gives the reader a glimpse of what life was like for the average nobleman of the day...(in the 1850's) It has some interesting descriptions of Russian family life, the life of the peasantry and how the younger generation interacted with the older generation (hence the title, "Fathers and Sons" although the original Russian is called "Fathers and Children"). One of the main characters, Bazarov, is a self proclaimed nihilist who rejects all forms of authority, causing problems for the older generations (his parents & his friend's parents), but attracting the attention of the people of his (the younger) generation. This book has no real plot...it is merely the story of how one man brings his nihilist ideas into other peoples' lives & it gives accounts of everybody else's reactions to these nihilist ideas. It is an interesting book & a pretty quick read, but it can drag in places...especially if the reader is waiting for something interesting to happen. All in all, I believe this book is worth reading, if just to get a taste of "Old Russia", but if you are looking for an exciting "can't-put-it-down-sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-page-turner", you won't find it in this book.
on November 3, 2001
This book is known mostly, perhaps, for the character of Bazarov, widely considered the vanguard of nihilism in literature, especially in Russia. Bazarov is a significant fact of fiction, a sketch of the young middle class intellegentsia developing in Russia in the second half of the 19th century. Brash, self-confident, iconoclastic, educated young men like Bazarov were popping up all over Russia. Turgenev finds a way to tie this into a rich tapestry of love, familial relationships, and simplicity that Arkady and Bazarov, the young men, succumb to. Even in his determination to change the world by destroying it so it can be rebuilt, Bazarov does not overcome the strong bonds of family. Love and family has the sort of redemptive power found so often in War and Peace, and indeed, Turgenev writes from a similar perspective and on a similar wavelength as Tolstoy. This book, while not big on plot, is to be appreciated for blending its simple prose with a poetic passion in showing how love between fathers and sons is ageless, and love between men and women occurs. I found the last passage very moving.
on February 20, 2001
In so much of Turgenev's finest fiction, love fades, slips away, vanishes before it can even flower; the mood of these stories is melancholy, nostalgic; the writing, delicate, precise, almost translucent. Turgenev was to be the only Russian writer with avowedly European outlook and sympathies.
The objectivity of Turgenev as a chronicler of the Russian intelligentsia is apparent in his early novels. Unsympathetic though he may have been to some of the trends in the thinking of the younger, radical generation that emerged after the Crimean War, he endeavoured to portray the positive aspirations of these young men and women with scrupulous candour. Their attitude to him, particularly that of such leading figures as the radical critics Nikolay Chernyshevsky and Nikolay Dobrolyubov, was generally cold when it was not actively hostile. His own rather self-indulgent nature was challenged by the forcefulness of these younger contemporaries. He moved away from an emphasis on the fallibility of his heroes, who had been attacked as a type by Chernyshevsky. Instead, Turgenev focused on their youthful ardour and their sense of moral purpose. These attributes had obvious revolutionary implications that were not shared by Turgenev, whose liberalism could accept gradual change but opposed anything more radical, especially the idea of an insurgent peasantry.
Turgenev's greatest novel, Fathers and Sons, grew from this sense of involvement and yet succeeded in illustrating, with remarkable balance and profundity, the issues that divided the generations. The hero, Bazarov, is the most powerful of Turgenev's creations. A nihilist, denying all laws save those of the natural sciences, uncouth and forthright in his opinions, he is nonetheless susceptible to love and by that token doomed to unhappiness. In sociopolitical terms he represents the victory of the nongentry revolutionary intelligentsia over the gentry intelligentsia to which Turgenev belonged. In artistic terms he is a triumphant example of objective portraiture, and in the poignancy of his death he approaches tragic stature. The miracle of the novel as a whole is Turgenev's superb mastery of his theme, despite his personal hostility toward Bazarov's anti-aestheticism, and his success in endowing all the characters with a quality of spontaneous life. Yet at the novel's first appearance the radical younger generation attacked it bitterly as a slander, and the conservatives condemned it as too lenient in its exposure of nihilism.
Turgenev's novels are "months in the country," which contain balanced contrasts such as those between youth and age, between the tragic ephemerality of love and the comic transience of ideas, between Hamlet's concern with self and the ineptitudes of the quixotic pursuit of altruism. Always touchy about his literary reputation, Turgenev reacted to the almost unanimously hostile reception given to Fathers and Sons by leaving Russia. He took up residence in Baden-Baden in southern Germany. Quarrels with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and his general estrangement from the Russian literary scene made him an exile in a very real sense. This book will give you the climate of Russia at the time, it's like a keg of powder waiting to explode!