TURGENEV by Henri Troyat
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TURGENEV

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Stellar biography of the great Russian novelist, by the accomplished Troyat (Peter the Great, 1987; Chekhov, 1986; etc.). Turgenev's problematic status as the greatest Russian writer who opted against Slavic culture in favor of European aesthetics is at the heart of Troyat's compelling tale. Forever at war with his contemporaries, including Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and anarchist reformers like Bakunin; constantly at odds with government bureaucrats and censors for his alleged anti-Slavism, Turgenev painfully accepted a ""misfit"" 's role in Russian life. Indeed, much of his mature life was spent in Paris, where he held literary court with his good friend Flaubert and seemed, in Russian eyes, to adopt a haughty Continentalism. Thus even tremendous early publishing successes at home like Memoirs of a Sportman didn't redeem the writer who, in the opinion of those like Nicholas I, showed utter contempt for his roots. The major subplot in this tale of exile concerns Turgenev's chronic failures at love. He spent a good part of life, for example, in futile pursuit of the singer Pauline Viardot, gradually becoming hopelessly love sick and ""chief slave"" to her beauty. Troyat convincingly traces these romantic confusions to Turgenev's lifelong submission to his authoritarian mother. ""I'm not happy,"" he confessed, ""until a woman has her heel on my neck and is pushing by face into the mud."" Lucidly written, sympathetically drawn, this work records both the psychological quirks of literary genius and the national pulse of a Russia in turmoil and transition. A masterful portrait.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1988
Publisher: Dutton