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Book Review

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In 1859 Russia, Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov and his older brother, Pavel, live at Nikolai’s estate. Nikolai is waiting anxiously for the return of his son, Arkady, who has just received his degree at Petersburg. Arkady brings home a friend, Bazarov, whom Nikolai and Pavel quickly learn is a nihilist — no authorities, values or religious beliefs hold any validity for him. He believes nothing can be known or communicated.

While Arkady worships his friend, the older gentlemen are put off by Bazarov’s ideas. He makes jabs at their old-fashioned romanticism, and his beliefs highlight the gap between the generations. Arkady’s mother has been dead for some time, and Arkady learns his father has a young woman, Fenichka, living with him. Nikolai and Fenichka even have a son together. Arkady is happy for his father, but Nikolai still feels a little embarrassed about the situation.

Bazarov is easily bored, so the young men travel to see one of Arkady’s relatives. At a party there, they meet a young widow named Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov. Arkady is immediately smitten with her, though she looks at him like a younger brother. She invites Arkady and Bazarov to visit her at the estate she inherited from her wealthy late husband.

The young men stay for several weeks at the estate. Anna enjoys bantering with Bazarov and hearing his ideas, even though she disagrees with many of them. At first, Arkady is sullen because he feels Anna is ignoring him. He finds himself spending most of his time in the company of Anna’s younger sister, Katya. Bazarov feels a great deal of inner conflict as he gets to know Anna. Love and romanticism are ridiculous ideas to a nihilist, yet he realizes he loves her. When he tells her this, she does not respond in kind. He decides he must leave, and Arkady goes with him.

They visit Bazarov’s parents, whom he hasn’t seen in three years. He remains sullen and is easily agitated. When he decides to leave again after only a few days, his parents are heartbroken. The men make an impulsive stop at Anna’s for a quick visit, and everyone feels uncomfortable. Katya does not come down to see them because she’s sick, and Arkady realizes he can’t stop thinking about Katya.

The two return to Arkady’s home, where Bazarov works on some of his scientific studies. Arkady eventually returns to Anna’s home, where he spends more time getting to know Katya. Bazarov, still at Nikolai’s house, causes trouble when he begins flirting with Fenichka. Pavel sees him kissing her in the garden and challenges Bazarov to a duel.

Bazarov thinks the old man and his ideals are ridiculous, but he goes along with it for sport. He ends up wounding Pavel in the thigh during the duel. Both men agree not to tell Nikolai the true reason for their contest.

Bazarov makes a final visit to Anna’s to see if she has any love for him. She says she does not. Katya and Arkady are in the garden when Bazarov and Anna pass by. They overhear Bazarov telling Anna that Arkady is fond of her. Anna considers liking Arkady. But when Bazarov and Anna pass, Arkady asks Katya for her hand in marriage. When she accepts, he writes a letter to Anna asking for Katya’s hand.

Bazarov returns to his parents’ house. He remains melancholy, and they tread carefully around him for fear he may leave again. Bazarov helps his father treat sick people, but contracts an infection that eventually kills him. Anna is at his side when he dies. Shortly after Bazarov’s death, Katya and Arkady marry. With Pavel’s encouragement, Nikolai happily marries Fenichka.

Christian Beliefs

Orthodox Christianity underlies the belief system of the older generation.

Other Belief Systems

Bazarov is a nihilist, meaning he acknowledges no authority and considers all things meaningless. Bazarov’s mother is highly superstitious.

Authority Roles

Arkady’s father and uncle, former military men, are respected gentlemen in society. Nikolai has a child out of wedlock and eventually marries the mother. Bazarov’s parents are kind, industrious people. Nikolai and Bazarov’s parents are excessively proud of their sons and crave deeper relationships with the young men.


The Lord’s name is used in vain. D--n also appears.


Bazarov makes light of Arkady’s idea that Nikolai should marry the mother of his child. Bazarov kisses Fenichka.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

18 and up


Ivan Turgenev






Record Label



The Russian Messenger; the edition used for this review was published in 2017 CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform


On Video

Year Published





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