“Not a great writer, though a pleasant one” was Vladimir Nabokov’s verdict on Ivan Turgenev, the first Russian novelist to make an impact abroad. Nabokov—who once complained about Henry James’s “vulgarities”—liked issuing high-handed, contrarian judgments. But he wasn’t alone in speaking of Turgenev with condescension. A Sportsman’s Sketches (1852), the book that made Turgenev’s name, was credited with helping to end serfdom in Russia, and Fathers and Sons (1862) introduced a lasting character type—the nihilist—in the person of Yevgeny Bazarov, who questions everything “with indescribable composure.” Fathers and Sons, however, made trouble for Turgenev. The Russian left interpreted it as a right-wing satire, while the right accused Turgenev of pandering to the left. In time, both sides agreed that he was a gutless centrist. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky belittled him, and their fame—which he promoted tirelessly in Paris—meant that later generations of Western readers had trouble reconciling his short, elegant books with preconceived notions of the turbulent Russian soul.