Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics Hardcovers) Review

Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics Hardcovers)
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Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics Hardcovers) ReviewAs Turgenev preceded Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, I always assumed that he belonged to a stuffier time; picking up "Fathers and Sons" in the bookstore, the first few pages seemed to confirm this assumption. Unlike Dostoevsky's prose, which I've always found compulsively readable, Turgenev's style seemed dense and somewhat stilted. Thankfully, the writing gets much more fluid and engaging as the story progresses.
Turgenev is in fact a wonderful stylist: economical, precise, lyrical when it befits his characters, yet never wordy. Whereas Dostoevsky's characters sometimes seem to be acting in a vacuum, and Tolstoy occassionally digresses into paeans on the wonders of nature, Turgenev straddles the happy medium. There are many brief but vivid descriptions of atmosphere, times of day--a horses hooves flashing at dusk, Arcady and Eugene reclining on recently mown hay--yet they are alway in service to the story and not overly symbolic.
Turgenev's approach to his characters is similarly nimble and balanced; sometimes he adopts a more distant tone, sometimes he's in a particular character's head, sometimes he gives a brief description of a character's backgound, at others a character will relate another's history from his point of view.
In fact everything in the novel testifies to Turgenev's faith in humanity, without ever seeming didactic or boring. All of the characters are sympathetic, and I could imagine actually traveling with them or engaging in conversation with them. Nobody beats Dostoevsky when it comes to penetrating psychological insight and dark humor, but his characters are always on some level types, intended to personify philosophical extremes. Tolstoy always seems to be hiding a profound but nonetheless conservative morality up his sleeve. Turgenev's characters, though, are somehow more believable than either of these author's. Eugene Bazarov and Anna Sergeyevna Odintzov are extreme, intense, and difficult people, but they are not caricatures, and they are no more the center of attention than Arcady, his relatives, or Bazarov's parents. Everone is held in equal regard, but everyone is distinct. In reminds me of Ibsen, who seems to regard his characters with the same sort of passionate, humane equanimity.
In a way, Turgenev is the anti-Dostoevsky (intending no disrespect to the master); at every opportunity where he might stage a cathartic "pathetic scene"--the duel, the climactic encounter over the deathbed of one of the main characters--he stays true to the fundamentally disjointed nature of life. The characters don't kiss and make up, nor do they hurl themselves under trains, yet somehow it remains gripping and illuminating. And Turgenev doesn't succumb to the opposite temptation, namely to undermine the gravity of real feelings by interrupting these scenes with trivial details, as Flaubert does so often in "Madame Bovary" for example.
What else can I say? There's no reason not to give this book a try if you like character driven stories that seem full of the essence of real life. Unlike other great Russian novels, this one is short, so if it's not to your taste, at least it's brief. However, I can almost guarantee that you'll wish it lasted longer, and that it'll leave you with a warm feeling inside.Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics Hardcovers) OverviewFathers and Sons (1862), Turgenev's masterpiece, represents in its hero, Bazarov, 'the new man', a nihilist liberated from age-old conformities and at odds with the previous generation, questioning the very fabric of society.A novel of ideas, Fathers and Sons is also a moving story of human relationships.

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