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Fathers and sons


Fathers and Sons is a novel by Russian author Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) that was published in Moscow in 1862. The novel is set in 19th century Russia, where two friends Arkady Kirsanov and Yevgeny Bazarov are returning to Arkady’s modest estate — called Marino — in one of the provinces. Arkady had just graduated from the University of Petersburg while Bazarov is still a pre-med student. In the estate they are welcomed by Arkady’s father, Nikolay, and his uncle —Nikolay’s elder brother — Pavel. The two elder men are not really impressed by the younger ones’ radical views and their constant talk of nihilism, a new school of thought that Bazarov was following and a zealous advocate of.

The two friends stay for some time in the estate where they get a glimpse of how badly the place is ran by Nikolay and its dire need of transformation through new and revolutionised management approaches, which Arkady’s education could help to bring in place. While Bazarov is critical and sarcastic at times when dealing with the two brothers for not catching up with modern times, Arkady is more sympathetic — especially with his father. He even encourages him to legitimise his relationship with Fenéchka, the mother of his second child. The friends then get to meet Madam Anna Odinstova — a young, rich widow — and her sister Katya who live in an estate in another province. Both men fall in love with Anna and Bazarov decides to distract himself by visiting his parents who stay in a manor-house that had seen better days. Nevertheless, Bazarov’s parents are keeping up the appearances by having servants dressed up shabbily and serving food to the guest that’s beyond their means. Arkady is touched by Bazarov’s parents love and devotion to their only son and is surprised by his friend’s apathy towards it. The rift between the two — that started at Madam Odinstova’s place — increases and Arkady leaves to see the sisters again. Bazarov goes back to Marino where things get complicated between him and Pavel. Soon after returning to his house, Bazarov decides to stay and help his father — a retired military doctor —in his clinic. The two friends never meet again, yet Bazarov’s short presence in every character’s life changes it unexpectedly.

This is a synopsis and my first attempt to read Russian literature as an adult after reading Anna Karenina during teenagehood. I found the nicknames of the characters a bit confusing and why everyone was calling everyone with their full names amusing. The conversations were dragging at times and the reaction of the characters was abrupt at others — especially at love and hate confession scenes. However, I was impressed by the representation of high-society female characters as they were well educated and cultured whether in music or in speaking foreign languages, as well as being abreast with the scientific advancement published in European journals. This starkly contradicted with the serf class that struggled in everyway and saw no future, even with Bazarov’s promise for them of being in charge and owning the land someday. The narrative is smooth and a few characters such as Bazarov’s parents are likable and easy to sympathise with. Fathers and Sons is one of the most acclaimed Russian novels of the 19th century. It mainly highlights the eternal conflict between different generations: the older generation who refuses reforms and the new generation of nihilists represented by Bazarov who was hailed as “the first Bolshevik.” Unfortunately, the novel wasn’t received well and Turgenev had to leave Russia and wrote less. Even so, Fathers and Sons is a timeless classic that is worth reading.

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja.

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