Cbr14bingo New This is a new translation by Nicolas Paternak Slater and Maya Slater, and it is a novel about the clash of old and new ideas
If you have been meaning to read one of the great Russian novels but are put off by the length of those written by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, I’d like to suggest that you take a look at the works of Ivan Turgenev. A contemporary of those two illustrious writers and brilliant in his own right, Turgenev covers similar territory in a much more manageable length and without the annoying forays into military history or moralizing about peasants and religion (looking at you especially, Tolstoy). Fathers and Children, frequently (and inaccurately) translated as Fathers and Sons, is perhaps his best known novel and contains themes that seem to resonate across time and cultures — the clash between generations, the exasperation that young people feel for their elders’ old fashioned ideas and the threat that the older generation perceives in new and seemingly foreign ideas. And these clashes occur on every front: politics, economics, the arts and love.
The main characters in Fathers and Children are college students Arkady Nikolayich Kirsanov and Evgeni Vasilyich Bazarov, and Arkady’s father and uncle – Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov and Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov. Arkady brings his friend Bazarov home to his father’s estate in the country and it is immediately clear that Bazarov and Pavel Petrovich, a former military man with aristocratic tastes and manners, are going to clash. Bazarov is a man of science, studying to become a doctor, and he is a nihilist, which means that he rejects pretty much everything, questions everything, and takes a rather cold and rational approach to everything. This is a man with no time of the frivolities of love and romance, or for the current discussions of political and economic reform. Pavel, meanwhile, believes that there are certain values and beliefs that are universal and demand respect. Arkady and Nikolai find themselves in the middle of these battles. This child and parent love each other, but Arkady is in awe of Bazarov while Nikolai often defers to his older brother Pavel.
While Bazarov and Pavel argue about science, politics, and so on, it is matters related to love and romance that bring tensions to a head on all fronts. Nikolai is a widower who has had another son through a relationship with his servant Fenichka, whom he loves but has not married. Pavel, as we learn from Arkady, fruitlessly pursued an unattainable woman in his youth, resulting in his rather bitter and harsh nature now. The introduction of the beautiful and wealthy young widow Anna Sergeyevna Odintsova will cause tension and turmoil between Bazarov and Arkady but more importantly within Bazarov himself.
As this is a Russian novel, the reader will experience both a great love story and heartbreaking tragedy — two things those Russian writers handle pretty darn well. Read a Russian today, and you won’t regret choosing Turgenev as a starting point.