First Love

For almost two years I wrote down every book I read on the date that I finished it. Shortly after the start of graduate school that practice fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons, no doubt including the attempt to maintain some semblance of sanity, and therefore needing to let some of the habitual details slide. Between listing all of the books I read and brushing my teeth, I chose to keep my teeth, but at some point I will return to the cataloging system. Hopefully. I still read a lot, though more than I should and less than I’d like. I really ought to stay on target, which would mean less procrastinating by reading, and there are a number of books I want to read and/or reread this coming year. Articles and partial reads for school didn’t make my list. But I digress. Sometime after my list fell by the wayside, I read Ivan Turganev’s First Love.

I picked the book up at my fifth favorite bookstore, Magers and Quinn Booksellers. It is fewer than 100 pages, and I have a fondness for Russian Literature, particularly the shorter stories (Gogol may be my favorite amongst them). Anyway, I read First Love then, and was just now thinking of it again. The short version of the story is that it is a dialogue on the nature of love encapsulated within a coming of age story.

The story opens with several middle aged men sitting about after an event, trading stories about their first loves–when, where, how, with whom, etc. The bulk of the story is that of Vladimir Petrovich, who begged off his turn at telling the story until he could write it down. Petrovich then relates how he fell in love with Zinaida at the age of 16. The critics who write the backflap and the introduction will tell you that Turganev viewed love as a summer storm and a tempest, and that is true, but, from the perspective of a young man who has at times approached love in exactly the same manner as Petrovich does in the story, First Love is an realistic commentary on modes of behavior that are expected, but seemingly futile. Certainly, Petrovich is not a perfect man, but he is a gentleman towards Zinaida, while Zinaida (who, I should add, genuinely likes Petrovich) ends up toying with him. At first this is comical as the two dance around one another, but it turns tragic as Petrovich slowly learns that Zinaida has a lover–a fact that torments him when he doesn’t know the identity, but devastates him when he learns it. First Love is one of the saddest stories I have ever read, but I genuinely believe that anyone actually interested in thinking beyond what new absurdity will be on TV next ought to read the book.

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