FATHERS & SONS BY IVAN TURGENEV

The last time I cried, like really cried, was some years ago when an ex-girlfriend of mine thought she was pregnant. Happily, she wasn’t, and as she came out of the bathroom and told me the good news it was tears of relief that poured forth from my eyes. I felt like a drowning man who had been suddenly thrown up on shore and was taking his first unhampered breath. Everyone seems to be having kids at the moment, knocking them out with frightening regularity. Everyone except me, that is. I don’t intend to ever have any; the prospect terrifies me. I believe that I have only this one life, and I do not intend to spend a large proportion of it in service to a child. I would, in any case, be the worst father:

‘Can you change the baby’s nappy, [P]?’

‘I would but I’m reading Balzac, dear.’

So, I’ll probably never find myself in the same position as the father in this novel [although I do know what it is like to be a son, of course], having your progeny bring home an unpleasant, arrogant, little twerp who thinks he knows it all, a poster boy for a new generation, one that alienates and ultimately despises you. In Fathers and Sons this poster boy is called Bazarov, who is a young man that considers himself the living example of a new way of thinking about, and relationship with, the world. This new way is Nihilism, there being no better way of winding up one’s elders than rejecting all their values and claiming that nothing has any meaning. Indeed, kids are still pulling this trick, dressing themselves in black, listening to obnoxious and blatantly ridiculous music, and scoffing at their parents’ attempts to engage with them. 

Nikolai, the father, bears all this with good grace; certainly much better than I would. He’s a slightly fawning character, more eager to impress than challenge his son’s friend despite being routinely insulted. His brother, Pavel, is not so accommodating. He can’t bear the impertinent little imp; he gives the impression of being on the verge of giving Bazarov a slap throughout their encounters and eventually challenges him to a duel. Pavel prides himself on being a man of the world, someone who is still au courant, and so Bazarov’s rejection of him, his sneering response when he airs his views, is particularly galling.

Had these interactions been the sole focus of the novel I probably would have labelled this a masterpiece. However, Turgenev introduces a love story, which I cared little for [although it makes a pertinent point about how one’s steadfast beliefs or ideologies can be compromised once there is a woman pouting provocatively on your horizon]. On the whole, though, Fathers and Sons is a thoroughly enjoyable, witty, and still relevant read.

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