The Pequod Review:
Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) remains one of the most underrated Russian writers. Fathers and Sons is probably his most accomplished work, and tells the story of two students (Arkadii Kirsanov and his friend Bazarov) who return home from school to the country estate of Kirsanov’s father. Bazarov expresses radically different political views than those of the conservative older generation; he considers himself a nihilist, something we might today call a rationalist, which he defines as “a man who recognizes no authority, a man who accepts no principle without first examining it, however high the esteem in which it may be held.” As a result, the book has reputation as primarily a political novel that explores the conflict between rebellious Russian youths and older defenders of tradition.
But what really elevates the novel are some of the beautifully drawn characters (such as the simple but honorable peasant girl who forms a relationship with Kirsanov’s father) and especially the deep emotional moments that transcend political and generational divides, and rise to the level of the universal. Here for example, is the tragic final scene of the book, in which a couple mourns the loss of their son:
Can it be that their prayers, their tears, are fruitless? Can it be that love, sacred, devoted love, is not all-powerful? Oh, no! However passionate, sinning, and rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep serenely at us with their innocent eyes; they tell us not of eternal peace alone, of that great peace of indifferent nature; they tell us too of eternal reconciliation and of life without end.