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Spring Torrents (1980)

Spring Torrents (1980)
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Rating
3.89 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
014044369X (ISBN13: 9780140443691)
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English
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penguin classics
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Spring Torrents (1980)
Spring Torrents (1980)

About book: In honor of the season I have read a book I have heard much of over the years, one I have wanted to read for a long time: Torrents of Spring by Ivan Turgenev, published in 1872 when Turgenev was 53 or 54. His age is important because this novelette is largely autobiographical and the hero, when we first meet him, is 52. Although the subject is first love, this is an especially rewarding book for those who are middle-aged, especially those living with regrets and perhaps feeling discouraged and burnt out. It is the story of a memory of lost youth and first love but it is also about redemption, coming to terms with the past, and finding peace, or at least, finding a way to keep fighting another day for your life’s meaning.As the novel begins we meet our protagonist, Dimitri Pavlovich Sanin, a Russian landowner, who is suffering a case of insomnia after attending some fancy upper-crust social event. We get the impression there is nothing outwardly wrong with his life: he is not ill, is financially secure, has a social life, and lives in a nice home. But his spirit is in ashes: he is empty, embittered by the nonsense of humanity, and haunted by the fear of impending old age and the lurking abyss of death. In this tortured state of mind, Dimitri imagines an allegory for the state of his existence: “He himself sets in a little tottering boat, and down below in those dark oozy depths, like prodigious fishes, he can just make out the shapes of hideous monsters; all the ills of life, diseases, sorrows, madness, poverty, blindness…. He gazes, and behold, one of these monsters separates itself off from the darkness, rises higher and higher, stands out more and more distinct, more and more loathsomely distinct…. An instant yet, and the boat that bears him will be overturned! But behold, it grows dim again, it withdraws, it sinks down to the bottom, and there it lies, faintly stirring in the slime…. But the fated day will come, and it will overturn the boat.” Such are the thoughts passing through this man's mind at 2:00 am. We see that he is going to need some serious psychological intervention to get to a better place. In this depressed state he rummages listlessly through drawers full of papers and discovers an small old-fashioned box. Opening it, he finds a cross set with garnets and the object transports him to a time in life 30 years in the past, when he was 22….Of course as always when I read Russian literature I so wish I could read Russian. The original title of this novelette is Veshnie Vody – or Вешние воды. However my 1897 translation by Constance Garnett is lovely: simple, direct, and lyrical. The main characters: Dimitri and all the members of the Roselli family are so genuine, warm, and sincere, that I not only feel I know them intimately, but I want to hang around their kitchen table drinking chocolaté and playing board games. In Dimitri’s memory it is 1840 and he has just arrived in Frankfort from Italy, ending a European tour. He has a few hours to kill before his coach leaves for Petersburg where he plans to begin his working life in some government post.But his plans are suddenly altered when he wanders into a random confectioner’s shop and meets Gemma, a beautiful 19-year-old girl who, at the moment, is in a panic. Running into to the shop from a back room, she begs the young stranger to come save her brother. Emil Roselli, age 14,has fainted and no one can get him to wake up. Dimitri has no medical experience but he quickly loosens the boy’s clothing, calls for some hair brushes, and begins brushing his body. I take it that brushing was a technique used at that time in such cases. Anyway, miraculously enough, it worked. The boy opens his eyes and wakes up. Gemma, her mother, and their loyal family friend, Pantaleone, a retired opera singer, are so grateful they insist that Dimitri stay for dinner. He becomes so absorbed in the stories, the games, and the discussion, that he misses his ride back to Peterburg and decides to hang out in Frankfort a few more days. Although he does yet fully realize it, he has already fallen in love with Gemma and she with him.There are complications of course. Gemma is already betrothed to a stiff arrogant bore of a merchant named Karl Klüber. Once Dimitri recognizes the magical feeling he is experiencing for what it is and he and Gemma acknowledge their love, Gemma’s mother becomes an obstacle because, as a widow, she sees Herr Klüber as the family’s financial salvation. But as the kinks are worked out, Dimitri becomes the betrothed and is accepted by all. It seems like this sweet love story is going to work out happily for everyone...except we know it isn't. The suspense is in finding out what could have gone wrong to mess up something so good and so beautiful?What does happen is so senseless, so ridiculous, so stupid, so typically human. But I don’t want to spoil the story so let’s just say Dimitri gets swept up into some torrents of spring. Does this trip down memory lane help the middle-aged Dimitri emerge from his funk? Sort of. No one can change the past, but you can make an effort to make peace with it, and there are sometimes things you can do to actually transform it. The Torrents of Spring is deliriously happy, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful: a genuine life story to which many of us can relate. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets old….but you’ll have to read the book to find out what else.

Just Read: Spring Torrents (1871) - Ivan TurgenevI haven’t read a Russian novel for years - perhaps this is an essential part of this year’s returning to my first love, my hoped for renewal of my Romantic’s heart: examining the ways and practices of living. I’d read Turgenev’s best known novel Fathers and Sons years ago, but to be honest I don’t remember much of the experience - I gave it an “A,” so I must have enjoyed it, but I can’t think of a single poignant scene or character that helps me recall the story. In this, I think my experience of Spring Torrents is already different: herein lie images and scenes that I anticipate will be a long time fading.If Wind, Sand and Stars was a modern Romantic’s manifesto, then Spring Torrents suggests a tempered Romanticism. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Turgenev acknowledges the unnamable admixture of wonder and sentiment, beauty and idealism, that may be described in the concept of Romanticism,while at the same time making a profound statement regarding its dangers: Romanticism is a serious pursuit, and not to be entered into without consideration of its cost. Odd, you might think, all of this discussion of Romanticism associated with Turgenev. But Spring Torrents is in many ways an odd novel, and wonderful. Turgenev is one of the best known Russian Realists, a peer (though not a friend) of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Herein we are treated to a Realist’s not unsympathetic critique of Romanticism: a valuable perspective. Torrents, written in Turgenev’s 50’s, and 10 years before his death, is a reflection on the Romanticism of youth (strongly implied to be his youth) from the perspective of age: a perspective with which I begin to relate. The novel also contains strong elements of nostalgia, a lingering look backwards by the aging and urbane narrator, to the 1840’s and what was then considered a simpler age, before steam travel and the industrial revolution had gathered strength. It’s also a meditation on the importance of inner strength: our hero, Sanin, is a nominally Romantic, amiable young man whose tragic flaw is his impressionability. Sanin is no “flake:” he has depth of feeling and conviction, but his capacity to be swept along on a tide, or “torrent” of Romantic feeling is an ultimately damning characteristic. And oh, how damning… His naivete is also at issue. Turgenev’s novel is peopled by realistically beautiful and monstrous creatures. Sanin may be able to intuit the difference, but has less insight as to the strength of their orbits. Turgenev seems to ask the question: “So you’re a Romantic? Now what?” How does one balance a wide eyed sincerity and wonder with necessary worldly navigational skills? I feel that Turgenev anticipates a characteristic of a Modern Romanticism: a good natured cynicism, a skepticism of the material and mundane stemming from a belief in the possibility of the transcendent; a facility in treating with the creatures of this earth growing out of a familiarity with heavenly creatures.I’d rather not provide a gloss of Turgenev’s tale: the power of the story is considerable, and too worth the journey to even flirt with spoilers. If the background I’ve provided and conversation above are sufficient to draw your interest, I believe you’ll be richly rewarded. My advice: don’t even read the dust jacket - let yourself be swept along with Sanin. Turgenev’s prose, especially in the translation that I read by Leonard Shapiro, was fresh and lovely: it’s easy to be transported to a forgotten springtime in Frankfurt and its environs. In the end, this was an important work for me. The consequences of Sanin’s experiences are so profound and life-altering that I received the novel as a personal reminder of the virtue of fortitude, and the danger of being swept along toward the cataracts by small decisions, and indecision; the text reinforces the essential, if practical concept of a Romanticism fortified by strength of character. I’m reminded of St. Matthew: “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”Final Grade: A+Next up: Great Work of Time(1990) - John Crowely. Won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella in 1990.
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Reviews
Agnese
I have just read the book and cannot express how much the main character Sanin has filled me with disgust.He is not a man, ok, he is but he does not deserves to be called so because his way of thinking is made for young boys not for grown ups. At first I was like - oh, how nice and sweet, and helpful Sanin is and he and Gemma would make a great couple. But...after reading the last chapter, I thought, thank God, it did not happen, Gemma should feel very lucky and full of happiness. Why did I change my mind? Go and find by yourself. "The torrents of spring" is definitely a book that is worth reading. Not only does it has a great language but also there are used many sayings and words from Italian, German and French. So it is a good way to learn many languages at the same time, to kill two birds with one stone ( reading with delight and learning).
Michelle
This is not going to be much of a review. I enjoyed the novella, but I didn't love it.While reading The Torrents of Spring, I kept comparing Turgenev's Sanin to Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov. I'm not sure if it's because I haven't read much Russian literature, so what I do read, I compare to the few other Russian novels I've read. It could also be because Turgenev referenced Dostoevsky in his letters to Flaubert, so I may have had him on the brain. I'm sure that didn't have anything to do with my lack of love for the novella, though.Sanin was kind of this macho type of guy, while Raskolnikov was a more sensitive, intellectual type. Raskolnikov thought about doing things; Sanin just did them. For instance, Sanin fought a duel for a young woman who was engaged to someone else because her fiancee didn't step up after she was "insulted" by some military officers. He owned land and serfs; Rasky was without an income.(And yes, I do realize Raskolnikov acted on things, but he thought about them endlessly before and after.) **Spoiler Alert**As a consequence of the duel, Sanin won the love of Gemma, but then threw it away for hot sex with someone else. It was difficult to feel much of anything when he did it because the character of Gemma wasn't written with much depth. In fact, the most interesting character in the novel was the woman with which Sanin had the affair. She was, as "they" say, a pistol.Even though I liked his letters more than I liked this novella, I don't think this experience will stop me from reading more Turgenev. Knowing he suffered from chronic gout made me laugh when I found this passage amid a novel about love found, love lost, and heartbreak:Who does not know what a German dinner is like? Watery soup with knobby dumplings and pieces of cinnamon, boiled beef dry as cork, with white fat attached, slimy potatoes, soft beetroot and mashed horseradish, a bluish eel with French capers and vinegar, a roast joint with jam, and the inevitable 'Mehlspeise,' something of the nature of a pudding with sourish red sauce; but to make up, the beer and wine first-rate!Yum yum.
Antof9
So .. . . this book wasn't exactly what I expected. Actually, it wasn't anything like I expected! For some reason, in my head I was expecting some Camus, I think. Perhaps Dostoevsky. Now I'm not sure :)But the majority of it was nothing like the depress-fests I've read by those two! Anyway, here are my thoughts on this book, in no particular order. . .Do you think Turgenev knew what a romance novelist he was? I *loved* this description: "Sanin returned to his room, threw himself on the divan without lighting the candles, put his arms above his head, and abandoned himself to those sensations of newly apprehended love which it is pointless to describe. He who has experienced them knows their languor and sweetness; there is no way of explaining them to one who has not." What a perfectly apt way to write that!There were so many passages like this that had such a lovely "turn of the phrase", that I thought long and hard about the way the author wrote and/or the way the translator translated. I finally decided it was a combination of both that made it so enjoyable to read :)Sometimes when I read books set in a different time and place, I wonder what they're trying to say without saying it (or without saying it in my language). At the risk of sounding plebian (appropriate, given the number of times it used in this book!), I have to wonder if Polozov was supposed to be gay. Several things seemed to allude to it (at least in my 21st century mind) -- his enjoying and being gifted at picking out clothing for his wife, dressing her hair (!), and the question she asks Sanin, "'Tell me, are you a great friend of my husband?' 'We went to the same boarding school.' 'Was he already like that -- in those days?' 'How do you mean, 'Like that'?' Madame Polozov suddenly burst out laughing, and laughed until her whole face was scarlet." Is she laughing at his naivete? Laughing at the fact that he doesn't know about her husband? Who knows? That was the only explanation that made sense to me. For a beautiful, rich woman, marrying a gay man might be the best way to avoid fortune-seekers, and an easy way to have any sort of affairs she likes. Who knows? Maybe it was just me. Or maybe it's really obvious to everyone else, and they're wondering why I'm not certain :)My two favorite things were the duel fought in Gemma's honor, and Sanin working in the patisserie -- giving away two pounds of goodies for half the price.
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