0394 | Doctor Zhivago | Boris Pasternak

0394 | Doctor Zhivago | Boris Pasternak

Context: One of a couple of books I read while we stayed in Port Vila, Vanuatu with this amazing view of the harbour from our veranda.

REVIEW

Being Russian, this is not an easy read and laced with political musings on the collective human condition. But it’s an extremely important book for many reasons, and for that reason worth reading.

As far as I know, it’s one of the only novels that documents both before and after the 1905 Russian revolution. Its intimate description of the impact on both sides of the political divide is very powerful. The young doctor and his family are thrown into turmoil and poverty by the events that unfold. Meanwhile others, such as the enigmatic Petya and self-concerned Komarovsky, thrive in very different ways. This latter character reminded me of a leech, and I was fascinated to discover that his name in fact means mosquito!

On top of that, its open criticisms of the new era make the book a fascinating first example of a genre that would make Solzhenitsyn’s name. Check out some of the quotes below to see how outspoken Pasternak was. I think he was lucky to survive personally. But such writing cost him both the reception of the Nobel prize and his own freedom within the country he loved. The novel was only published in Italian to start with after being smuggled out of the country after it was banned by the state.

The love story you might be familiar with from David Lean’s fabulous film version actually plays second fiddle to the political struggle for Zhivago to be the liberated poet he yearns to be. It’s no wonder Lean focussed more on the torturous love triangle that the romantic doctor finds himself trapped in. It certainly makes for better cinema. In fact, the film is profound for focussing on the emotional struggles we encounter while the novel is profound for the political. Both are ideologies which we all have to grapple with and allow to tame us as we mature.

On the whole, I think this book is a fantastic example of how a novel can be a profoundly influential political document. This is a very powerful art form we are encountering here and a good example of how understanding the historical background for a novel can make it a much better read.

OPENING LINE

On they went, singing “Rest Eternal” and whenever they stopped, their feet, the horses, and the gusts of win d seemed to carry on their singing.

QUOTES

The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity.

I think that collectivisation was an erroneous and unsuccessful measure and it was impossible to admit the error. To conceal the failure people had to be cured, by every means of terrorism, of the habit of thinking and judging for themselves, and forced to see what didn’t exist, to assert the very opposite of what their eyes told them… elections that violated the very principle of free choice.

99TH PAGE QUOTE

After dark the carriage ran into a patrol and was ordered off the main road. The driver did not know the new by-pass. They drove about in circles for a couple of hours without getting anywhere. At dawn they came to a village that had the name they were looking for, but nobody knew anything about a hospital. It turned out that there were two villages of the same name. At last, in the morning , they found the right one. As they drive down the village road, which smelled of camomile and lodoform, Gordon decided not to stay the night but to spend the day with Zhivago and go back that evening to the railway station where he had left his other friends. But under circumstances kept him there more than a week.

CLOSING LINE

And the book they held seemed to confirm and encourage their feeling.

RATING

0394 | Doctor Zhivago | Pasternak | 71% | Very Good

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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