Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

(Book review)

This book, for those who haven’t heard of it yet (and until about a year ago I hadn’t heard of it myself) is supposed to be one of those great classic 19th Century Russian books. I first became aware of it while reading “What is to be Done” by Chernyshevsky, in which the translator’s introduction and footnotes referenced “Fathers and Sons” as one of the books Chernyshevsky was replying to.

I never finished “What is to be Done” (and consequently never reviewed it on this blog--although I've referenced it in the past) because I was leaving Gifu at the time and had to return the book to the library. Although I think I read enough of it to get the general feel, I do hope to track down another copy of it and finish it someday. But in the meantime, I thought I would knock off some of the books that inspired it.

This book is about generational conflict in 19th century Russia, when the moderate liberals of the 1840s generation are confronted with their radical sons from the 1860s.

Given the upheaval in Russia in the 19th century, this has the potential to be some very interesting reading. However the radical sons in this case are portrayed as being nihilists and to the best of my knowledge (and the publishers introduction confirms this) very few of those creatures actually existed in 19th century Russia. There were lots of Social Democrats, Socialists, and Anarchists of all shades among the Russian radicals, and all of them shared a common hatred of the establishment, but they all had detailed visions of what they wanted to put in its place.

The young heroes of Turgenev’s novel believe their duty is simply to destroy everything in front of them, and leave the new society up to the next generation. They repudiate the serfs and the peasants, the traditional heroes of the left, just as much as the church and the Tsar.

In my opinion, since the philosophical basis of the story is so far removed from the actual reality, the novel looses a lot of its punch. I had a hard time swallowing the idea that these young men would seriously take nihilism as a philosophy. Of course the idea of nihilism itself isn’t supposed to be central to the themes of generational conflict in the novel, but I found that was the stumbling block I couldn’t get past.

At the very least though, this novel is very short, compared to the epics of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. Less than 300 pages, and (about a third of that the publishers introduction) you could easily read this book in a week and then brag to your friends how you got another Russian classic under your belt.

Speaking of the introduction…Like all republished classic books this contains a lengthy introduction, in this case about 1/3rd of the pages of this edition. The edition I read was introduced by Isaiah Berlin (whose biography on Marx I just recently completed), and contains an interesting summary of Turgenev’s own political views, and the big controversy this book caused when it was first published. According to Isaiah Berlin, one of the reasons the philosophy of this book is so muddled is because Turgenev was under pressure both from his radical friends and his conservative publisher. In some ways I found the introduction more interesting than the actual book.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Following the song's release, musical similarities between "My Sweet Lord" and The Chiffons' hit "He's So Fine" led to a lengthy legal battle over the rights to the composition. Billboard magazine, in an article dated 6 March 1971, stated that Harrison's royalty payments from the recording had been halted worldwide. Harrison stated that he was inspired to write "My Sweet Lord" after hearing the Edwin Hawkins Singers' "Oh Happy Day".
In the U.S. federal court decision in the case, known as Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music, Harrison was found to have unintentionally copied the earlier song. He was ordered to surrender the majority of royalties from "My Sweet Lord" and partial royalties from All Things Must Pass.
The Chiffons would later record "My Sweet Lord" to capitalize on the publicity generated by the lawsuit.
Shortly thereafter, Harrison (who would eventually buy the rights to "He's So Fine")[1] wrote and recorded a song about the court case named "This Song", which includes "This song, there's nothing 'Bright' about it."

Link of the Day
SDS Anti-War Actions Continue

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