Michael Dirda at the Washington Post:
Again and again, the 19th-century European novel returns to its favorite theme: lost illusions. Balzac’s fiction regularly tracks the corruption of visionaries and idealists; “War and Peace” ends with its surviving characters abandoning the romantic dreams of youth to embrace a complacent, bourgeois middle age; those famously restless wives — Emma Bovary, Effi Briest and Anna Karenina, among many others — learn that adultery can be at least as disappointing as marriage.
In some ways, disillusionment might be viewed as simply another name for maturity. That’s certainly among the underlying meanings of “The Same Old Story ,” Stephen Pearl’s English title for his new translation of Ivan Goncharov’s tragicomic first novel. But there are other, more jaded implications, too, mainly concerning love.
Because 19th-century Russia abounds in stupendous literary figures, Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891) can be easily overlooked, though his masterpiece, “Oblomov ,” should sound vaguely familiar, if only because it is sometimes described as the story of a guy who doesn’t want to get out of bed.