Monday, June 28, 2010

Sketches from a Hunter’s Album

by Ivan Turgenev

Varied and nuanced writing that commits everything to uncovering of the setting. There are interesting characters and good lines, but the overall lack of a real plot ensures that main interest will be focused on the portrayal of the larger environment and the formulation. In that, it largely succeeds, although not without some jarring elements in layout that make it one of Turgenev’s weaker books. Nevertheless, there is ample detail here on why Turgenv is such a great author, with his ability for intense deescription, humor and poignancy.

The setting under consideration is again nineteenth century Russia, here a view towards varied class elements in the rural life. The descriptions of nature are often breath-taking and the overview on social arrangements quite intereesting and complex. What makes it overall hang togethre is Turgenev’s tone--passionate, light-hearted, substantive and never letting himself get too monolithically analytical. Even beyond the manifold interesting details recorded in it, the tone of Turgenev’s writing is itself an historical treasure. Turgenev is an author I’ve come to more coldly than other Russian writers, in particular Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov, but a work like this helps show off his strength more clearly. It’s not really about story, as shown by the work suceeding despite its highly episodic and situation-oriented writing. Rather it’s precisely these elements of being able to vividly convey a character’s spread out life in just a few key actions that shows Turgenev to be a major literary force. Combine that with his engaging pace and page-by-page literary beauty in his prose, and the result is a supremely interesting author.

Better than: Notes from the House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Worse than: Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

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