Bruce's Reviews > Fathers and Sons

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
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's review
Mar 19, 2009

it was amazing
Read in March, 2009

Gemlike in its quality, Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons is an exquisite novel, sensitive and perceptive, perfectly balancing the eternal issues of tradition and progressivism, conservativism and liberalism, science and religion, and, perhaps above all, the ambiguities and ambivalences of intergenerational relationships. In a series of scenes, in what might be interpreted as a veritable screenplay, Turgenev artfully and sympathetically probes the interactions between parents and sons (sometimes “sons” has been translated “children” in the title, and there is no reason that the arguments would differ were daughters to be considered, but the actual characters in the novel are indeed sons), the ever-present yearning for closeness and intimacy struggling with the desire of differentiation and independence, creating a picture so true to life, so poignant, that the reader cannot help but reflect on his own life and experience.

The plot of the novel is essentially linear, with brief diversions to provide past history of a few of the characters, the unfolding of the story being entirely plausible. Its resolution is consistent with the story and, in a sense, inevitable, Bazarov’s death being the only reasonable outcome in view of the radical nature of his character and philosophy. The primary question in my mind was where Turgenev’s own sympathies ultimately lay; the characters who end up the happiest would seem to be those who embrace tradition, but that is not altogether clear nor uniformly true. At any rate, his characters are finely and skillfully drawn, clearly differentiated from each other, each developing and changing in critical if not always predictable ways. Turgenev’s use of language is fluid and seemingly effortless, the translation perhaps being primarily responsible for the ease of reading in English (the translation I read was by the redoubtable Constance Garnett, revised and updated by Ralph Matlaw, and I had no quibble with the result except for finding the translation, “dad,” a bit too American in a 19th century Russian novel).

In summary, I found this novel to be moving and memorable, a sensitive exploration of themes relevant not only to its own era but to our own and indeed any time, the topics and struggles being perennial.

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