Thursday, 10 May 2012

Guest Post: Jamie d'Ath of The Unsamaritans Book Club

Venue: Jamie and Katie’s
When a show of hands was called to see who had read the book and only two arms were raised, it seemed the discussion would be done and dusted in 5 minutes. Surprisingly though there was a very interesting and well contributed to discussion.
To recap, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev written in the mid-19th century uses generational conflict to explore the changing demographics and social structure within Russian society post the Crimean War. A relatively short book, Turgenev nevertheless manages to create some complex yet believable characters which give the reader a valuable insight into an important period of Russian history.
GT opened up the discussion with a vivid description of him turning the final pages whilst lying resplendent in his silk bed robe listening to the rain tap dancing on his veranda. His succinct view was that Turgenev’s novel was as relevant today as it was 150 years ago. To be honest most of us were still digesting the big man in his silk robe but Sarah managed to step in kick off the discussion on the meat of the book; the characters. Bazarov, understandably got the most air time.  Despicable, dull, superficial, loathsome, crass, insincere were words thrown up to describe his supposedly unflinching commitment to nihilism, or was that about Marshall? It was widely agreed that conviction to nihilism was sorely tested and broken by his unrequited love for Madame whatsherface. The rationale being, how can you be truly nihilistic if you felt an emotion as strong and irrational as love? Ergo great idea, bad execution pal. The suggestion was that Turgenev was trying to subtly mock the boldness and uncompromising nature of youth which mellows and faces compromise over time.
Frances posed the question, after the savaging of young Bazzy, who was the most likeable character? Arkady seemed to get the nod for his more conciliatory and reasoned approach to life. He was a nihilist but realised the limitations of the movement in its absolute form.  Madame whatsherface got an honourable mention, brought to the fore by James S, but I think that was more recognition for the depth and complexity of her character at a time when woman in literature were painted as stereotypical figures. A certain sympathy was felt for Vasily, Bazarov’s father, who has a realistic perspective on his position in society and whilst is keen for change, understands the need for a link to the past. In contrast Pavel, was felt to be a bit of a pompous plonker.
What came out in the discussion was the impact on the reader of the different translations. Depending on which publication the respective members of the group had read, there was a subtle difference in how the language was handled. Marshall reckoned there was too much use of the word “mate” and felt that was more appropriate for a south Queensland mining tavern than common speak of mid-19th Century Russians.
The “where are they now” technique was met with mixed reviews. Frances felt it was a little crude but pulled the story together whilst GT thought it worked well in this instance.
Katie treated us to a couple of lines in Russian which contrasted somewhat to GT’s silk robe imagery and helped us contextualise the novel. I think the general consensus was that Fathers and Sons was a good choice and an interesting read, which gave contemporary readers a realistic landscape from which to explore the changing dynamic of Russian society.
Honourable mention must go to the bringers of food which went down a treat. Thank you.
Next month’s book club is The Finkler Question. Let’s not do a Figures…..