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Salon Staff
July 31, 2001 1:18AM (UTC)

Rudin by Ivan Turgenev, translated by David McDuff
This, Ivan Turgenev's first novel, isn't as sharp as his masterful classic "Fathers and Sons." Its dialog is often clumsy and clunky; obvious metaphors muck up the drama. But this "long short story" -- first published in 1856 -- is wickedly smart and its insights into human motivation are penetrating. The story's protagonist, Rudin, arrives at the Russian country estate of a wealthy widow and transfixes everyone in the drawing room with eloquent speeches and lofty platitudes about life and love. Young, voraciously intelligent Natalya wants nothing more than to escape the small minds of her closed society. She hopes that Rudin will put some of his idealism to practice and sweep her away. But Rudin, it turns out, is all talk. The story is about pretense, cynicism, ideals, youth and bullshitters of all ages, and it's best when reveling in its own tiny jokes -- a self-centered society doyenne stumbles in her Russian because she's thinking in French -- or tearing apart a character with a withering observation: People talk too fast when they're trying to fake modesty. It's a classic tale, populated with the same irritating folks you meet at cocktail parties today.

-- Jeff Stark

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