Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons

Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons differs from other 19th century Russian novels in that it is short (at just about 300 pages or so). Where it doesn’t differ, however, is in the philosophical questions it poses and criticisms is conveys.

‘My brother says we are right,’ he thought, ‘and apart from all vanity, I do think myself that they are further from the truth than we are, though at the same time I feel there is something behind them we have not got, some superiority over us…. Is it youth? No; not only youth. Doesn’t their superiority consist in there being fewer traces of the slaveowner in them than in us?’ Nikolai Petrovitch’s head sank despondently, and he passed his hand over his face. ‘But to renounce poetry?’ he thought again; ‘to have no feeling for art, for nature …’ And he looked round, as though trying to understand how it was possible to have no feeling for nature.

One of my favorite passages from the novel

If you’re familiar with 19th century Russian novels, I would say this is most similar to Gogol’s Dead Souls. The country setting, the large cast of characters (that we mostly just meet in passing) and just the vibe in general are all quite similar. My favorite section of the novel was Nikolai Petrovich admiring the beauty of nature while reminiscing on his past and shedding tears over these memories. I think the genius of these 19th century realist writers (in particular Russian writers) is their ability to encapsulate these moments in a way that feels very “real”.

This book was quite strange because the first 1/3 or so of the book I thought it was incredible and had a feeling it could knock off several books off my top 5. However, I failed to connect with the second half of the novel and while I still think it’s a solid 4-stars I would not place this in my top 10.

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