Book Reviews Duel

Published on December 18th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley

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Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev

I’ve finally decided to plunge into my recommendations list, starting with the Russian novel, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev.

At only 235 pages this is the shortest Russian novel I have read yet, the character roster is still rather large and the novel is able to cover a huge amount of ground, while still being consistent and involved.

The history of Russia at the time is important to understanding some of the key background themes that inform the characters particularly the dynamic between generations. The emancipation of the serfs was in 1861, allowing freedom to the Russian peasants, meaning that landowners were no longer necessary and authoritative figures. The novel was written a year after the emancipation however, is set a few years before in 1859.

The story follows a group of people, whose relationships are fractured, most notably, as the title suggests, of fathers and sons. A young man whose new friend is a nihilist, decide to visit the former’s father, whereupon it becomes  apparent that the father and son have become distanced in his absence.

Unlike the steady prose of other Russian writers, the novel is more like a play, in that it is divided into scenes,  with character dialogue leading the narrative, as well as there being no definable main character. The descriptions are loose, with heavy attention placed on emotive responses to such, the style reminds me of Gogol, and could easily be classed as a Realism piece.

The characters are most unusual, unlike in Dostoevsky’s work, the main characters  are not peasants or exceedingly poor, nor by any means are they aristocracy, but more like landowners. The change in perspective is evident  in that it is less damning, but also less patriotic than other work.

The novel focuses heavily on the nature of intimacy between people, whether it is morals, actions or philosophy, each character undergoes their own arc, signalling change much like the era that it is written and the shift in views and the reconciliation between characters is not wholly uplifting, and some of the messages were too politically driven, ending up with a contempt for change, despite the compromises.

Although  not as thematic and narrative-driven as Dostoevsky, Fathers and Sons is probably the most quintessential Russian novel, offering a great insight into Russian culture, while also maintaining a beauty that is immediate and fulfilling, if not as memorable. Nonetheless it is shocking that he is not popularly known alongside Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as one of Russia’s greatest writers.

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