83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wise Novel
As 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...
Published on August 7, 2002 by Daniel Staton
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Young Nihilist Versus World in Match to Death!
All right, it's not that exciting. But this is a pretty good novel. The characters are interesting, though somewhat two-dimensional in places. It is a little obvious that they are supposed to be representing different ideas, but this is not particularly bothersome (to me, anyway). The descriptions of various places are amusing and to the point. The story is engaging and...
Published on February 20, 2005 by Radio Saturday
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83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wise Novel,
As 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.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated Masterpiece,
This review is from: Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
There are multiple Fathers and Sons translations, and Richard Freeborn's is particularly controversial. It is certainly readable and does a remarkable job of conveying Turgenev's poetic prose. However, Freeborn tries to convey the character Bazarov's slangy speech by using Southern American dialect - a risky tactic that many will appreciate but some will loathe. Anyone looking for a worthy translation who is not bothered by this would do well to pick up Freeborn's version, but others are warned.
Now to the book itself. Though not Russian fiction's father in Nikolai Gogol's sense of adapting the language and producing its first notable fictional works, Ivan Turgenev is the direct antecedent of the psychological characterization and philosophical dramatization that is most closely associated with it and thus arguably its true father. Fathers and Sons, his most famous work and masterpiece, was the first Russian novel to attract Western praise, particularly winning over Henry James, who hailed it as a masterwork and championed Turgenev over the Russian writers who soon overshadowed him. One can debate Turgenev's merits relative to giants like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy, but he certainly provides an interesting contrast, and Fathers and Sons has long had an indisputable place alongside their great works in the world canon.
The book is of course most famous for Evgeny Vasilevich Bazarov, its protagonist, who is both painstakingly realistic and thoroughly symbolic. He typifies the young, European-influenced, middle-class liberal that Turgenev rightly thought was a rising Russian power. A self-proclaimed nihilist, he rejects religion, conventional morality, and nearly every other traditional Russian virtue. He claims to believe in nothing but has a great passion for science and seems to believe in a sort of self-reliance. Though influenced by archetypes like Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, he was an essentially original creation - Turgenev's most memorable and famous character. Anyone at all familiar with Russian literature can immediately see that he became a prototype, his most famous manifestation being Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment a few years later. However, he is interesting enough in his own right, and his ambivalent depiction is fascinating. Though he is ostensibly a cautionary figure, a negative example, Turgenev was open-minded enough not to condemn him outright. His dark end is indeed a warning that pure nihilism is a dead end, but Turgenev at times seems as enthralled by Bazarov as anyone. This ambiguity was the main reason that the novel got very mixed reviews; it satisfied neither those who sympathized with Bazarov nor those who condemned him. Turgenev was stung and wrote less prolifically and enthusiastically from then on, but time has shown that the uncertain portrayal is exactly the book's greatest strength. Bazarov represents a path that Russia could have taken - or, if you will, one pole of human nature -, though admittedly an extreme one, and cannot be lauded or condemned outright. Turgenev was brave enough to give an honest portrayal, and the profoundly believable and insightful psychological portrait retains its power. Bazarov is one of the most interesting characters in a century full of great ones. He is hard to fully love or hate; he certainly has many despicable qualities, but only Pollyannas can deny some of his points, and the force with which he argues, in combination with his cynical apathy, has a certain perverse charm. We can debate him and what he stands for ad nauseum, but it is unlikely that anyone who reads the book will soon forget him.
There is of course far more to the novel, not least its vivid dramatization of the title's implied generation gap. Turgenev saw an ever-widening chasm between the liberals of his generation and the Bazarovs, dramatizing it with striking verisimilitude and stunning philosophical and psychological depth. His generation is represented by the brothers Nikolai and Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov. They have also embraced Europeanization but in ways that Bazarov finds contemptibly superficial: speaking French, wearing foreign clothes, etc. More fundamental is their continued clinging to traditional morality and institutions. Their interactions with Bazarov make clear that, religion and morality aside, the generation gap was to a great extent a class issue. The Kirsanovs are aristocrats, and Pavel Petrovich in particular resents the upstart Bazarov. Their clash soon culminates in a highly symbolic duel suggesting, especially in its aftermath, that while the Bazarovs may initially gain the upper hand, there is much to be said for the older generation, which should not be written off so quickly. Nikolai Petrovich is more moderate, abandoning tradition to the extent of taking a lower-class woman as a mistress and even having a child with her, yet aware enough to constantly worry about offending his brother. He can sympathize with Bazarov and is even willing to listen to his ideas but above all simply wants harmony. His son Arkady is at yet another place on the spectrum, respecting the elders but so naïve and joyous in his youthfulness that he becomes a Bazarov disciple almost without knowing.
These conflicts play out in various ways but primarily through Arkady, the only character who really changes. It can be assumed that he was squarely in familial tradition before college, where he nearly became a Bazarov clone, and he finally takes solace in love's redemptive power. There is no doubt that Turgenev thinks this last the right path - that we are supposed to think, as Arkady finally does, that Bazarovism leads only to wasteful self-destructiveness, making true happiness impossible and keeping us from doing the world any good. Some will of course disagree, but Arkady's progression is very plausibly written; it is hard not to sympathize and be glad for his eventual peace and bliss. The novel is thus among other things an excellent bildungsroman.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the book is how Turgenev dramatizes all this - and even makes his point clear - without heavy-handedness. Novels tackling such weighty issues often let didacticism overwhelm story, but Fathers and Sons is never guilty of this nearly always fatal sin. He is also a master stylist; his often lyrical prose encompasses not only dense philosophical speculation but also much sublime beauty. The last paragraph in particular is unforgettable in its precise beauty and profoundly moving sentiment - so well-written that even those who cynically disagree with the conclusion, and thus the book's overall message, cannot deny its immense power. Most notable of all is that Turgenev manages to do all this in under 250 pages. This is the greatest difference between him and the more famous Russian masters known for their thick tomes. Turgenev eschews their great attention to detail, lengthy dialogue, and long philosophical asides. Those who, like James, detested such "loose, baggy monsters" may join him in preferring Turgenev, and the differences are substantial enough that even those who dislike Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and their ilk should not pass over Turgenev automatically on account of it. That said, he shares enough of their great elements - indeed, inspired many of them - that their fans should check him out. His remarkable conciseness is certainly less intimidating, and there are many benefits to reading the Russian greats chronologically. In short, the appeal of Fathers and Sons is so great and diverse that the book is a must for practically anyone who appreciates great literature.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fathers and Sons,
With Fathers and Sons, Turganev shocked the Russian literati with his portrayal of Bazarov, the self-described 'nihilist'. Rejecting everything and recognising no single authority, Bazarov was a kick in the teeth of the aristocracy's grand old men, a rebellion of the son against the father.
Evgeny Bazarov is a young man, with ideas that he believes are the only rational, reasonable way to live and behave. He is contemptuous of love, of sentimentality, of tradition and of the aristocracy. Yet he is intelligent and capable, and believes the way he does not through a sense of hostility and outrage, but because it seems right to him. His younger friend, Arkady, considers Bazarov his 'mentor', and though the two disagree with the depth of nihilism that is necessary for accurate living, they are for the most part in agreement.
Bazarov's nihilism is argued amongst the characters at several different stages of the novel. Turganev chose not to make the hero an unassailable target - both the negatives and the positives of such an outlook are admirably explained, discussed and dissected. The characters are intelligent in their own field or experiences, and all are willing to add to the argument. Obviously, the title should reveal to all that it is the father's of the two main characters, Arkady and Bazarov, who have problems with the younger generations ideas, though the 'fathers' of the story do try to understand Bazarov's thinking, rather than merely stamping him down with their experience and wisdom.
The characters are very well realised. Pavel Petrovich is the typical Russian aristocrat, unable to fully understand the scope of change that the emancipation of the serfs will bring. Arkady is the eager student, a man who wishes to embrace the concepts of nihilism, but who finds himself drawn into sentimentality towards his family, and who falls in love. Katya, Arkady's love, is one of the shallowest characters, but even she works on a level beyond being merely a foil to Arkady's belief. Anna Sergeevna, Katya's sister, is a tremendous character, being both passionate and intelligent, and able to duel equally - and sometimes better - against Bazarov's wit.
A word on the translation by Richard Freeborn. For the most part it is good, and the dialogue is very good, but there are moments that feel awkward or amateurish. An odd turn of phrase or - more common - an inexplicably placed colloquial term of slang phrase lessens the impact of a scene. Bazarov referring to his 'mates' in conversation tends to decrease the impact of the ideas set forth, and while would not have been so noticeable if the entire novel was constructed in such a matter, the rest of the writing is quite formal, and as it is, the narrative structure suffers somewhat. Regardless, Fathers and Sons is a very interesting examination of the conflict of ideas that parents and their children necessarily experience, and has the admirable quality of being fair and honest to both sides, with very little in the way of bias on either side, even considering that Bazarov is the main thrust of the narrative.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written,
"Fathers and Sons" comes very close to perfection. At times, Turgenev's use of the language borders on poetry. The characters are intriguing and sympathetic. The novel deals beautifully with man's inability to live without holding something sacred, and its tragic "hero" goes to the grave realizing that he has been trying to fill that void with "straw" instead of something more meaningful--like faith, or family, or true love.
Some critics have said that Turgenev supported the "nihilists," the young men who scoffed at all things sacred. They say Bazarov is the hero of the novel, intended to be idolized. But I consider it impossible to read "Fathers and Sons" and not be moved by a deep need to hold something--anything--sacred.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My dear friend:,
I have just finished reading this wonderful book, "Fathers and sons", and I wanted to share my impressions with you. Oh, what a superb novel! I will never forget Bazarov and his constant questioning, his revulsion against nothingness, his moodiness, his noble demeanor.
Turgueniev places in Bazarov the almost unbearable burden of nihilism. Nihilism as a philosophical posture, a methodic negation of systems of belief; nihilism as a continuous quest for the truth. Bazarov's nihilism derives in action and not in an empty criticism of reality that may end up in mere discouragement. As Ortega y Gasset once said: nihilism as a result of having wondered about every ideological creation, every philosophical stance.
Family ties and the confrontation among generations of fathers and sons are also masterly depicted throughout the book. Turgueniev portrays the perplexity of the father when faced with the reality of time ticking inexorably away as well as unconditional love for the son that comes home after a long absence.
I will never forgive Turgueniev for denying Bazarov the possibility of happiness. But I am no one of importance to say what the author should or should have not written. Anyhow, Bazarov's stance before death is as unforgettable as that of Camus' Meursault in "L'etranger" or the anonymous character condemned to capital punishment in Victor Hugo's "Le dernier jour d'un condamné". And here, dear friend, I must make a confession: I have still tears in my eyes, something that Bazarov would have never approved of. If he saw me right now, he would certainly accuse me of being romantic. He would consider my behavior as that of a foolish waif, a weakness proper of a bourgeois woman. Yet, my friend, I don't complain about it: he may be right, but I can't conceal emotion. I hope you will understand me.
What shall I add? You know this novel better than I do. Far from Dostoievsky's books whose characters are constantly dwelling on the brink of madness, this is still a Russian novel, full of sadness and melancholy, where the eternal brooding over social justice in a country that remained feudal until the XXth century taints the story form the first page to the last...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Young Nihilist Versus World in Match to Death!,
All right, it's not that exciting. But this is a pretty good novel. The characters are interesting, though somewhat two-dimensional in places. It is a little obvious that they are supposed to be representing different ideas, but this is not particularly bothersome (to me, anyway). The descriptions of various places are amusing and to the point. The story is engaging and fairly quickly placed.
The only reason I'm giving this novel three stars instead of four or five is because the translation is so painful. Generally, it is fairly serviceable, until you come to the conversation. Phrases such as "hanging around" and "So what?" pepper the dialogue, and Bazarov's speech in particular. Is this meant to show his irreverence? If so, it fails. Bazarov speaking habits do not seem irreverent, merely clunky. And these phrases took away from my enjoyment of the story. It's like going to the theater to see a movie, and then having the lights on through the whole show.
All in all, it was a good novel. It is worth reading, especially if you can find a different translation.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 19th Century Russian Classic,
'Fathers and Sons' is arguably Turgenev's greatest work. It is very accessible to the reader, and excellently written. Turgenev is renowned for his masterful ability to construct realistic dialogues and this novel does not disappoint in this respect. But 'Fathers and Sons' is also a novel of ideas and Turgenev analyses some of the ideas and sentiments which were later to have such an important influence on Russian society.
This novel follows Bazarov, a self-proclaimed nihilist, and his friend and pupil Arkady Nikolayevich Kirsanov as they return from their studies in Petersburg to the province in which their fathers reside. The tale is tangled with arguments and discussions about politics and philosophy, and of course it is also complicated by a heavy dose of love. As another reviewer has mentioned, the author's treatment of nihilism as a philosophy is particularly interesting and enlightening.
Turgenev is adept, as other reviewers have noted, at accurately describing different emotions and even at evoking those emotions in his readers; something of which precious few writers are capable. The subject of love, both romantic and mat/paternal, is dealt with extremely skilfully by the author and betrays the understanding of someone who has undoubtedly been exposed to those feelings himself.
'Fathers and Sons' then, leaves the reader with the sense that he/she has participated as a quiet observer in Bazarov and Arkady's journeys, and that Turgenev has enabled one to better appreciate love and the relationship between father and son, amongst other things. This is a book that deserves to be read, appreciated, and pondered over long after it has been closed. It's core relevance has not been diminished by the century-and-a-half since it was written.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawless, Great, Not even finished with it yet.,
A Kid's Review
A few months ago, after beating around the bush, and reading a little of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, I plunged headfirst into 19th Century Russian Literature, the Golden age of Russian Literature. Obviously, I knew just a little about Tolstoy, that nutty cool guy with the even cooler beard who wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the even nuttier cool guy with a less cool beard but arguably better works than the latter (although these two great men are shoulder to shoulder and forever will be) who wrote Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. I also learned of an even nuttier guy named Nikolai Gogol who wrote the great epic in prose Dead Souls and The Overcoat. I already knew of the greatness of Pushkin and his Shakespeare presence over Russian Literature.
I then came to Ivan Turgenev and was warned against his, what some people on this very site call "slow" writing from a "stuffier time," since Turgenev preceded Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. After participating in the incredible bliss which we humans call "reading Fathers and Sons," I was fully convinced that Ivan Turgenev is definately underrated and is up there with Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Gogol.
The novel, probably the first modern novel in Russian Literature, remember that, concerns the social gap between young and old, radicals and conservatives. Imediately, the novel is not "outdated" or "stuffy." Turgenev was, actually the man who introduced the word "Nihilist" and disected it thouroughly through the memorable character Eugene Vassilich Bazarov, a young medical student who, along with his friend, Arcady Nikolaevich Kirsanov, claims to respect no institution, man or anything and sneers at Arcady's father and uncle who disagree with Bazarov and Arcady.
The novel received a mixed response in Russia, with both radicals and conservatives disagreing with the charactarization with their representatives but it was an international success and Turgenev was the first to prove how great Russian Literature was and was the first respected Russian writer, gaining the friendship of Flaubert, Maupassant, and Henry James.
This is the best and briefest proof of the greatness of the 19th Century Russian novel, proving Turgenev's greatness.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good place to start in Russian literature,
If you're intimidated by Tolstoy or Dostoevsky's long masterpieces, consider starting instead with Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons." This book is of course a masterpiece of Russian literature. It's characters and themes are timeless and absolutely relatable to our modern culture. This is a story of family relationships, romance, and philosophy. Highly recommended.
p.s. When you're done here, try "War and Peace" or at least "Crime and Punishment."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully-written classic,
I bought this book on a whim - ... I read a few pages and liked the writing style, which seemed to me reminiscent of Dostoevsky and other writers of the period. When I finally picked it up again a few months later, though, I found myself instantly hooked, and still am.
As the other reviewers mention, there isn't much of a plot. Although there are some political/philosophical discussions, Turgenev is never heavy-handed or didactic about them. In fact, he seems almost disinterested in the arguments per se (which at the time were highly controversial and often censored), preferring instead to examine the motives and personalities of the characters who espouse them. But I think it is these very qualities that make this novel so accessible and ageless, even to readers (like myself) who know very little about Russian history.
Turgenev writes beautifully, with sharp, closely-observed details about the human condition that are timeless and often humorous. This is a novel not only about intergenerational conflict (via the two main characters' relationships with their parents), but also about the younger characters' interactions with each other. Arkady's essential optimism and Bazarov's misanthropy (despite that he's a doctor) play off each other beautifully, and give insight into their professed beliefs and even their different approaches to love.
This novel isn't a page-turner and it doesn't have the usual plot devices or moral agendas typical of its contemporaries. You won't like it if you have a short attention span. But what a payoff: Turgenev's masterful use of language, gentle affection for his characters, and unsparing depiction of complex, sometimes conflicting motivations is awe-inspiring. Indeed, in my opinion the epilogue contains one of the most moving passages ever captured in literature.
If you love great writers like Dostoevsky or Eliot, you'll be delighted to discover Turgenev. Also highly-recommended is the Everyman edition of First Love and Other Stories. (PS: It's pronounced Ter - GEN - yef; I was mispronouncing it for months!)
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Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics) by Ivan Turgenev (Paperback - June 15, 2008)