Author: Ivan Turgenev
Translator: Michael Pursglove
Published: Alma Books, 1867
My Copy: Library Book
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
Set in Baden-Baden, a small spa town in the foothills of the black forest, in the south west of Germany, near the border of France and Switzerland. Grigory Mikhailovich Litvinov has arrived in the town after spending years in the west; here he plans to meet up with his fiancée Tatyana. While there, he bumps into Irina an old flame, who is now married to a prominent aristocrat General Valerian Vladimirovitch Ratmirov. This chance meeting derails all Girgory’s plans for the future and sends his life into turmoil. Smoke is a melancholy novel of an impossible romance and an apogee of Ivan Turgenev’s later novels.
I know what my wife would say, this is a typical Russian novel about a man that has a fiancée that has waited for him all these years while he was out west but then an old flame turns up and he doubts his relationship. This is a common trope in classic Russian literature but this is also autobiographical for Ivan Turgenev. At the time of writing this novel, Turgenev was living in Baden-Baden to be near his lover Opera singer Madame Viardot. Creepily, he moved next door the singer and her husband. His relationship with Madame Viardot turned into a lifelong affair that resulted in Turgenev never marrying, although not sure what her husband thought of it all.
Smoke is a satirical novel aimed to highlight the problems Ivan Turgenev found with mother Russia. The conservatives are unwilling to change and adapt to the help modernise Russia, while he believed that the revolutionaries were glorifying a Slav mysticism, which we all know as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. With one novel, Turgenev managed to alienate the majority of Russia in one hit; the book even sparked a heated feud with fellow writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
While this satirical exposé into his fellow countrymen was met with a lot of criticism within Russia, Smoke was still published in the March 1867 issue of The Russian Messenger. The Russian Messenger is one of the best Russian literary magazines during the 19th century publishing the majority of the great pieces from this country. Smoke may not be the best Ivan Turgenev novel to start with but it was an interesting book to read none the less. The amount of debate it sparked was fascinating to explore and I believe Smoke holds a well-deserved spot in the Russian canon.