Accessibility and Exclusivity: Turgenev’s Home of the Gentry

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Listen. I promise Turgenev isn’t that bad. I know you don’t believe me, but if you ever find yourself with a gun to your temple and a command to pick a Russian author that won’t bore you to tears (wait, who wouldn’t cry? There’s a gun to your head), pray it is Turgenev.

Classic texts can be intimidating due to the immense amount of mental attention they require, and anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is totally bogus and not deserving of your trust. Russian texts are particularly challenging, and that’s coming from someone with a pretty hot and heavy Slavic background.

Like a text from any part of the globe, there are a lot of foreign elements at play that the reader must decode, and Ivan Turgenev’s second novel, 1859’s Home of the Gentry, is the perfect definition of this.

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Home of the Gentry depicts the homecoming of Fyodor Ivanych Lavretsky (spoiler alert, all Russians have 2-3 names, and this text is no exception) who returns to Russia a disillusioned, broken man after he catches his wife in the throes of an affair.

He returns to visit his cousin, Marya Dimitrievna Kalitina, who has two daughters, Lenochka and Liza. Lavretsky, scorned and jaded from hurt by his cheating wife Varvara Pavlovna, is immediately drawn to the young, beautiful Liza, who lives her life in a quiet seriousness and devout religious devotion- but no qualms appear to surface about being attracted to your cousin, no matter how distantly related, so that’s a thing.

The two can’t fight the feeling anymore and confess their love for each other, despite all of Liza’s trepidations about Lavrestky’s leaving his wife. What progresses in this little novella only goes to support the idea that life is not fair and, without spoiling the ending, in true Russian style, everyone is smarter in the end but just as miserable.

The nice thing about this text, however, is that it is quick and easy to read, even with the antiquated language. Turgenev’s style is fairly accessible, making him a top choice of Russian authors to read in the aforementioned gun crisis.

What make this text a bit more challenging is the cultural context behind it, especially the identity crisis for young Russians in the late 1800s with the opening of European culture that was incredibly trendy. While reading, I imagined the Europeanized Russians like a bunch of hipsters, people who saw the light and began writing their screenplays in coffee shops with soy lattes and having vinyl parties with their parents’ record players. Even for 1800s Russians, these people were pests.

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Chloe agrees!

However, what makes Home of the Gentry so beautiful is the weaving together of this accessibility and this exclusivity; it’s easy to understand and enjoy the text while having to do just a bit of research to keep your head above water in terms of context. While it’s not a particularly uplifting book, it ain’t no Little Life, so you won’t need to worry about bawling your eyes out.

But just to be on the safe side, keep some tissues ready.

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The Shocking Boredom of Lolita

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At some point in their reading careers, all readers experience the internal debate over whether a text is necessary, a Canonical masterpiece that has transformed into a world renowned classic, or whether it is just pure obscene, an absolute abortion of the highest morals of our society.

Can it be both? Is it both? And what does that say about the reader and the society in which they reside?

The internal battle began to rage with my second reading of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and even after letting it settle for a few weeks, I’m not sure which side has won the battle within me.

I say my second reading of this charming, delightful, shocking, abhorrent little novel because I attempted to read it once in college, but because László Krasznahorkai was hogging up all my time (he is a demanding fellow) for a critical analysis, I abandoned poor Lolita after a chapter or two. She has listlessly waited on my shelf for my post college days for her owner to pick her up again, and even though the text is disgusting and difficult, I’m largely glad I read it.

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Academic Depression: The Mathematician’s Shiva

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For those of us who could be considered school nerds, there can be something exotic and enchanting about the world of academia. If I could have stayed in college for the rest of my life, I probably would have. I loved school. The real world, although not without its perks, is overwhelming terrifying at times. I’ve come to realize that adulting is mostly just googling how to be an adult.

But there are some that fight the good fight and live forever in the halls of Valhalla and manage to remain in college forever. Those that continue onto professorships, enlightening and wowing the youth with their incredible intellect and ability to call out even the slightest fallacy of logic from their students. One of these individuals who managed to live eternally in the comforts (and terrors) of academia is the central figure in Stuart Rojstaczer’s first novel, The Mathematician’s Shiva, an extraordinary, brilliant, and looming Russian/Polish mathematician named Rachela Karnokovitch.

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The Master and Mr. Sorokin: Disappointment in Russia’s So-Called Greatest Writer

61cg2bKAZlLHappy Independence Day, America! What’s more American than reviewing a Russian novel, eh?

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a great deal from author, playwright, and screenwriter Vladimir Sorokin, especially when his contemporary, Gary Shteyngart, boasts him to be “one of Russia’s greatest writers.” Taylor Antrim of Newsweek continues the trend, claiming him to be “one of Russia’s literary stars.”

Then how is it that his 2006 novel Day of the Oprichnik is so mediocre? And that’s being generous. There’s too much weight in naming Sorokin one of Russia’s greatest writers, and I think it’s far from the truth. Watch the praise, Mr. Shteyngart, Mr. Antrim. Them’s fighting words.

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