A forgotten classic. A masterpiece by one of the best novelists of all time. A deliciously chewy book from the golden age of Russian literature. Ivan Turgenev’s On the Eve is a memorable experience that introduces you to a transcendental and aching tale, which touches the deepest part of your soul.
What’s it about?
Friendship and love, sacrifice and loyalty, idealism and philosophy
This is a love story with a historical background, told with consummate skill, moving inevitably to its sad conclusion. A small group of young Russian aristocrats deal with intellectual issues on the eve of the Crimean War. The protagonist — the twenty year old Elena — and two other men in her social circle search for answers through earnest philosophical discussions. The arrival of the fourth element — A Bulgarian revolutionary — to this friendly triangle suddenly makes everything unpredictable and life takes unexpected turns. You suspect a tragic ending all along, you feel a melancholy tone throughout and your apprehensions turn out to be true. “I sought happiness, and I shall find—perhaps death.” says Elena. But hope somehow remains alive and you don’t feel vanquished when the journey is over.
What’s so good?
This is not a spider web in terms of plot. But Turgenev’s flowing, seemingly artless prose keeps you mesmerized. You would recognize a faint atmosphere of rose water. On the Eve is not too passionate, yet it is beautiful in form and full of emotion. Even though the pace is not too fast, the story keeps you hooked right from the beginning.
This novel is rich in brilliant characterizations. You may not identify with the characters (who may seem a bit strange in 21st century), but you do feel for them and you do recognize their sad sentiments. And this is perhaps the only Russian classic with a Bulgarian revolutionary — Insarov — as a hero. He is a head-strong champion who wants to liberate his motherland from the Turks and eventually meets a tragic fate.
A historical fact
On the Eve is now considered as one of Turgenev’s major works. Surprisingly, it was not warmly received by the critics at that time and Turgenev’s reputation suffered a feedback after its publication. Being highly sensitive to the opinion of his friends and critics, Turgenev didn’t write much in the years that immediately followed.
Is it a “must read” novel?
On the Eve was written almost 150 years ago. But it hasn’t become irrelevant, nor has it lost its charm. You shouldn’t skip this book particularly if you admire vintage Russian novels.