Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Russians and Reds

Just a brief note on the two books I read this week. The first, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, is a novel/poem about a young red man/creature named Geryon. It is based on a lyric poem by the ancient Greek poet Stesichorus.

Carson's Geryon is a red man with wings trying to live in the modern day. You can almost ignore that Geryon is a creature, though. The story is love lost, dysfunctional family relationships, and growing up as an outsider. It was good, but weird. This was the other book that Toby Barlow cited as his inspiration for Sharp Teeth's style. I can see how he blended this and White Jazz. Autobiography of Red is a quick read and was a change of pace for me. I tend to struggle in the appreciation of poetry and short stories and this was no exception. I'm not quick on the draw when it comes to symbolism. I don't feel the allusions here were as obscure but I usually find myself feeling like I missed something when I read poetry or short stories and I felt that way here.

Maybe my simple-mindedness when it comes to reading is what lets me appreciate Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. Set in Russia in the late 1960's, it's just a basic tale of two young men, their parents (largely their fathers), and their search for their place in a changing Russia.

It is very much about generational differences. The one son, Bazarov Vasilevich, is a Nihilist, not believing in anything except the study of science. The other (it's two families), Arkady Kirsanov, is younger than Bazarov and relies on him as a mentor. As they flit around the countryside meeting with young and old alike - family members, peasants, socialites - both find themselves struggling with the nihilism beliefs.

The story ends with Arkady, more of the "good guy", finding a happy medium between young and old, helping his father move into the modern times as Arkady himself grasps the traditional. Bazarov struggles to the end and winds up dying of a germ-infected wound inflicted while trying to study a disease-racked body.

There weren't too many surprises with this book. Straightforward, very much the style of a lot of Russian literature of the time. A nice read all in all.

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