Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book 43- Fathers and Sons (70th Book)

Book 43 on the list was Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I was curious to read this book, because I love Russian authors and I had never read any of Turgenev's books. I love Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy truly, but the lesser Russian authors I find harder to get along with.

Turgenev's novel sets out to show the disparity between two sets of Father's and Son's ideological views. The younger generation has become infatuated with Nihilism and the older generation holds steadfast to faith and tradition. Bazarov is the extreme example of the new generation and his friend Arkady closer to the middle. Arkady's uncle Pavel is the extreme verison of the older generations belief in faith and traditions while his father, Nikolay has a more shaded and rounded version of the older beliefs.

While I found this book to be somewhat preachy and a little too blatant with the discussion on the difference between fathers and sons, I did find a lot of the classic Russian themes that make me love Russian authors. This book has flawed human characters who are lovable even though they are flawed. It also has a theme about the greatest of love and it's ability to overcome many things. I also love that Russian authors devote a great deal of time to the poor. In Turgenev's case, his novel is set shortly after the emancipation of the serfs and follows some of them as minor characters.

There are several phrases that hit quite close to the theme. Here are a few that stood out for me:

"of course you can't understand me; we belong to two different generations"

"that definite twilight period of regrets which resemble hopes and of hopes which are akin to regrets, when youth is over and old age has not yet started"

"You are here to take our places"

"my parents I mean, are occupied and don't worry about their own nothingness"

The book really draws no conclusions as to who is right  in the debate between Fathers and Sons. Bazarov, is a tragic hero who dies by the end of the book, felled by an illness he is treating in his father's provincial village. Pavel is shown, to be truly unhappy and roams about the earth never really settling down. Both Arkady of the younger generation, and Nikolay of the older generation are shown to be happy. They are rounded characters who have found love and hold beliefs from both camps.They allow themselves to see life as it is, rather than trying to fit it into an ideology. Bazarov utters a truismin in his discussion with Madame Odintsov, who he loves. "perhaps really everyone is a riddle".

Bazarov also says, "that's how it is with the luggage of life; we would stuff it up with anything rather than leave a void". Although that is a bitter phrase, uttered to Arkady at his parting from him just when he is about to get married, I think in a lot of ways it is true. As humans, we are not fond of leaving voids in our life and we fill them with all kinds of things addictions, obsessions, activity, and people, rather than truly feel alone.

My conclusion? This isn't the greatest Russian novel of all time, but it is a worthy read.

Book 42-The Scarlet Letter (69th Book)

Book 42 was The Scarlet Letter. I was excited to read it because I had visited Nathaniel Hawthorne's grave in Sleep Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. It was interesting because the beginning of the book starts off describing the sea port of Salem. I was there too and loved the historical significance of  a town based on the witch trials. The story is told as though it tells the true account of a woman who left a diary that was found in an old Custom's House, which is a place where Nathaniel Hawthorne actually worked. The author sets out to tell her story based on the diary.

I wanted to love this book after being excited about the setting, but I didn't. It didn't hold and captivate my attention the way that I wanted it to. It did have some interesting points to say about good and evil and what makes a person strong.

The one thing I did like about the book was the description of the pastor who slept with the adulterous woman, Hester Prynne. He never told and his secret sin ate him alive. As the book progressed he got sicker and sicker eventually leading to his death. It shows how although the trial of wearing a Scarlet Letter was a hard one for Hester she was able to sleep at night knowing that people knew the worst thing about her and still interacted with her anyway. The words laid out in the book, which signify the principal underlying why one of these two characters thrives, while the other dies slowly is this, "Be true. Be true. Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred". There is freedom in being known by others and loved anyway. Pastor Dimmesdale was seen as a saint in the community, but deep down he knew himself to be flawed.

Puritan New England would be a frightening place to live.Everyone walked around with a feeling of superiority over other people, and yet they were all human. I liked a line in the story that shows that we are all flawed and that none of us would be safe in a legalistic community like the one described in the book. "if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom".

This book was run of the mill for me, although I didn't hate the book, I wasn't fascinated with it as I hoped. It is great to see that it has become so iconic though, because the author sold very few copies in his life time.