Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Book Review - "Fathers and Sons" by Ivan Turgenev

As far as classic Russian literature is concerned, I’ve so far read Tolstoy (War & Peace, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Kreutzer Sonata), Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment) and Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago). I liked Tolstoy and Pasternak a lot but was not a big fan of Dostoyevsky’s (but might still read more of his works). Now I can add Turgenev to the “likes” list.

The story is set in 1860s Russia and weaves together the friendship between two young graduates Bazarov and Arkady, the father-and-son relationships in their respective families, and the unsettling effects of their romantic pursuits on the friendship, against a backdrop of Russian social and political reforms. The narration flows in a languid pace, but the main characters’ psychological and emotional journeys are well drawn, evincing the author’s insights into human relationships.

Bazarov is a headstrong, smart and self-sufficient nihilist and up-and-coming medical doctor who puts his ideals before all other things, only to have his cool façade dissolved when he falls in love with a sophisticated and mature woman. Arkady, on the other hand, is diffident and compassionate, and covertly loves the arts but would not admit it in front of his mentor and best friend Bazarov. At first Arkady thinks he is attracted to the same woman that Bazarov proclaims to love, but later realizes that he actually loves her younger sister. Both youngsters, in their unhappy moments, find refuge in their loving families and the ready embrace of their doting fathers, despite the generational values gap. The story ends unexpectedly on a tragic note.

It is a simple but beautiful story that’s worth 4 full stars. The version I read is translated by C. J. Hogarth, and was probably not the best of translations.

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