Fathers and Sons

Axel Kulle 1846-1908-Den förlorade sonens återkomstArkady Kirsanov, recent graduate of the University of St Petersburg, comes home to visit his father Nikolai and uncle Pavel at the Kirsanov estate in the country.  Nikolai is anxious to give his son a warm welcome, even if it means putting up with Arkady’s new friend, the arrogant Yevgeny Bazarov.  Bazarov has abandoned social conventions and traditions while expounding upon the virtues of nihilism, which causes growing hostility between him and the conservative Pavel.  Arkady goes on to visit Bazarov’s parents and begins to discover that Bazarov is not exactly what he thought he was.

Ivan Turgenev‘s short novel is truly an underrated classic.  Fast-paced and witty, the plot’s complexity is worthy of a longer book, while the setting gives us another perspective of Russian history–neither quite Pushkin nor Dostoyevsky.  Fathers and Sons came highly rated, but I didn’t know it was going to be such a page-turner, hard to put down!

Set in 1859, this book is about the generational gap between “fathers and sons” (and uncle), but it is also about generational similarities.  Ironically, I found what Nikolai and Bazarov shared most in common was their immorality (stemming from pride), narrowmindedness, and male chauvinism.  Some things don’t change, I guess.

My favorite characters were Pavel and Bazarov, the polar opposites.  Pavel is a Byronic/Romantic/Pushkin-era dandy and former ladies’ man, who entered middle age with a broken heart and an old-fashioned sense of style.  Bazarov is different in every way–young, full of himself, could care less how he looks, and apathetically ambitious (he studies medicine, but he doesn’t “believe” in it).  I like Bazarov’s honesty, and I think Pavel is actually the most conscientious character in the book.

I also liked Bazarov’s parents, Vasily and Arina.  They struck me as two people who–while not asking many questions or pushing many conventions–try to do their best where they’re at.  Really, the book is full of realism and grey characters; if you like reading books about “real” people, then you would probably like Fathers and Sons.

I guess what disappointed me about this book was Bazarov himself.  Turgenev was about forty-four when Fathers and Sons was published, and I think the book reflects that.  Bazarov doesn’t come across as very true to his cause, nor does he seem to live for anything or anyone but himself–his selfishness and arrogance, not his beliefs, are his chief attributes.  I do not promote/agree with the nihilist movement, but if a character is supposed to represent something, then their perspective should be examined clearly and not merely in vague expressions.  At least, the generational contrast/comparison would have been more effective if Bazarov had been more sincere, like Nikolai and Pavel.

4.5 out of 5 stars.  The plot is excellent (and the ending is tragic).  Recommended!


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