When I read this in my early twenties it went straight into my top ten favourite novels. All the ravishing set pieces of snow, the high adventure of the long train journeys through spectacular landscapes and Yuri and Lara as the romantically bound orphans of the storm was irresistible to my romantic young imagination. On top of that, as you’d expect from a poet, the novel is alive with memorable piercing images. This was my third time of reading it. I still loved it but it would no longer make my top ten or even twenty. I began to suspect it might be a novel you love less the older you get. There were moments where I found Pasternak's vision closer to that of an overly romantic young man, a lover, rather than a husband or father. Nabokov famously called it dreary and conventional. For someone so astute at always coming up with the right word “dreary” is decidedly off the mark. Pasternak packs into his novel two revolutions, two world wars and a famine. In fact it’s hard to think of any country in the history of the world that has gone through such a series of traumatic events in such a short period. Pasternak does a terrific job of condensing all these events into theatre. There are no more characters in this novel than in a play. And as in a play all characters continue to interact with each other in a self-contained world. This of course demands a number of far-fetched coincidences but these are embroidered together with such artistry that not once did I have a problem of suspending disbelief. He does this by designing a floorplan in which the idea of predestination is the science that holds everything together. I was thinking while reading this that serious authors no longer tend to write romantic self-portraits of themselves. After Fitzgerald and Hemingway the trend began to die out. Perhaps because the person we least know in any objective sense is ourselves and to write about yourself, especially from a romantic perspective, is to risk portraying as qualities what most see as faults. This is true of Yuri who comes across as pompous and ineffectual at times which I’m not sure Pasternak meant. To be honest I’m not sure how similar Yuri is to Pasternak but because they are both poets there’s often the feeling he’s writing about himself. Fitzgerald after all denied Dick Diver was a self-portrait when clearly this was a smokescreen. And like Dick Diver Yuri isn’t terribly convincing as a doctor either. Not convincing, in other words, whenever Pasternak tries to distance him from himself. Not that this matters much in either case. Dr Zhivago could be seen as the most elaborate justification of adultery every written. I doubt if it’s any hard core feminist’s favourite novel. This time around I wasn’t convinced about his women. He seems to idealise women rather than understand them, often putting his own words into their mouths. Tonya’s letter to Yuri when she finds out he’s betrayed her is almost comical in its flattering appeal to his vanity and understanding of Lara’s advantages over her own. What woman would tell her man she makes things simple and acknowledge her rival complicates them? That’s like admitting you’re duller than your rival. You might fear it but never would you say it, at least not in the calm moderated charming way Tonya does. This voice of reason on the part of Tonya while the entire country is a bloodbath of irrational hatred jars. Pasternak means well when he writes about women but like many educated man of his generation can come across as patronising. Pasternak will also show how public life and its etiquette, its conventions, can corrupt the personal life. In the old world his marriage to Tonya is a rational decision – they’re from the same class, share a similar education and have much in common. And yet the lower class Lara is better suited to him. But it takes the revolution for them to meet on equal terms. Ironically then, for all his criticism of the revolution, he’s recognising it introduced a broader prospect for love between soulmates while before love was principally confined to social equals. Komarovsky is a key character to understanding what Pasternak thought of the revolution in broad terms. Komarovsky begins the novel as a predatory entrepreneur who enjoys the good life. After all the passionate idealism, the killing and sacrifice and starvation Komarovsky loses not one iota of his power. The unscrupulous mercenary will always come out on top. And maybe it’s this accurate but rather unadventurous idea which runs through the novel that explains why Nabokov found the novel dreary. On the other hand maybe he was just bitching about a rival. Once again I read the old translation which has been roundly criticised. I read somewhere that the translator read a page and then set about translating it without again glancing at it. In other word he went for the gist rather than the rhythm. There’s a new one now that is apparently much better.
There was no way I could ever escape reading Doctor Zhivago. After all, I'm a proud daughter of a literature teacher; this book earned the Nobel Prize for Boris Pasternak; and it has been staring at me from the top of my to-read pile for years with quiet accusation.And so, reader, I finally read it.Doctor Zhivago is an interesting novel. It is very character-centered but is absolutely *not* character-driven. It is an epochal novel focused on the particularly turbulent, violent and uncertain but yet future-defining era in Russian history - the time frame around the Russian Revolution and the following years of brutality and confusion in the Russian Civil War. The driving forces of the story are the frequently senseless and almost always cruel historical events, a greater force against which the efforts and intentions and agency itself of the characters are pathetically, frustratingly helpless and futile. It is really a story of individual fates trampled under the relentlessly rolling forward bulldozer of history.
What may surprise some people who via the phenomenon of 'cultural osmosis' may know of this story as one of the greatest stories of forbidden and doomed love ever written (or something of similar sort, a misunderstanding perhaps perpetuated by the 1960s screen adaptation of this book), the love story is a quite small part of the overall plot. Don't read it for the pangs of unrequited love or the tension of the love triangle - the disappointment is sure to come if those are your expectations.
While I'm at it, I'd like to make sure I get across that while being quite skeptical about the October Socialist Revolution and its consequences, Pasternak was definitely not even close to being starry-eyed or wearing rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia when it came to the old way of living in Russia, the world shattered by the events of the revolution. He never leaves a doubt that the old world order needed to be changed, that the change was both necessary and organically expected; but the direction the change took was painfully brutal and, perhaps, less than ideal, and those who have suffered from such a radical change were perhaps the best people Russia had at that time - but their value has not made them any less vulnerable to the unrelenting march of time and dictatorship of proletariat."It's only in bad novels that people are divided into two camps and have nothing to do with each other. In real life everything gets mixed up! Don't you think you'd have to be a hopeless nonentity to play only one role all your life, to have only one place in society, always to stand for the same thing?"
"No single man makes history. History cannot be seen, just as one cannot see grass growing. Wars and revolutions, kings and Robespierres, are history's organic agents, its yeast. But revolutions are made by fanatical men of action with one-track mind, geniuses in their ability to confine themselves to a limited field. They overturn the old order in a few hours or days, the whole upheaval takes a few weeks or at most years, but the fanatical spirit that inspired the upheavals is worshiped for decades thereafter, for centuries."
Sadly, despite my way-too-long obsessive internet search I could not come across a translation of these poems that came even close to doing justice to their brilliance. It's very unfortunate, but I guess some things need to be experienced only in the original. A good reason to learn Russian, right?
(486 From 1001 Books) - До́ктор Жива́го = Doctor Zhivago, Boris PasternakDoctor Zhivago is a novel by Boris Pasternak, first published in 1957 in Italy. The novel is named after its protagonist, Yuri Zhivago, a physician and poet, and takes place between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II. The plot of Doctor Zhivago is long and intricate. It can be difficult to follow for two main reasons: first, Pasternak employs many characters, who interact with each other throughout the book in unpredictable ways, and second, he frequently introduces a character by one of his/her three names, then subsequently refers to that character by another of the three names or a nickname, without expressly stating that he is referring to the same character. دکتر ژیواگو؛ نویسنده بوریس پاسترناک؛ انتشاراتیها (دریا، سیروس، گنجینه، ساحل، دادار، سمیر دبیر، پیروز؛ نگاه و شباهنگ؛ واژه، نگارستان، قم نظاره، البرز فردانش) موضوع ادبیات روسیه؛ تاریخ نخستین تماشای فیلم سالها پیش؛ و سپس خوانش کتاب در ماه دسامبر سال 1969میلادی؛ عنوان: دکتر ژیواگو؛ نویسنده: بوریس پاسترناک؛ مترجم: علی محیظ؛ ترجمه از متن انگلیسی؛ تهران، دریا، 1337؛ در 560ص؛ چاپ دوم 1342؛ چاپ سوم 1343؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، کتابفروشی سیروس، 1337، در 549ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، گنجینه، چاپ هشتم 1361؛ در 560ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، ساحل، 1369، در 560ص؛ شابک 9646495184؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، دادار، 1380، در 560ص، شابک 9647294204؛ چاپ سیزدهم 1382؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، سمیر، دبیر، 1386؛ در 508ص؛ شابک 9789648940466؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، ساحل، چاپ چهاردهم 1390، در 630ص؛ شابک 9789646495180؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسنگان روسیه - سده 20ممترجم: علی اصغر خبره زاده؛ تهران، اطلاعات، 1338، در 312ص؛ تهران، پیروز، 1362؛ در 756ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، نگاه، شباهنگ، 1392؛ در 840ص؛ شابک 9789643517335؛مترجم: کامران بهمنی؛ تهران، واژه، 1382، در 161ص؛ شابک 9645607434؛ چاپ دوم 1384؛ چاپ سوم 1388؛مترجمها: داریوش شاهین؛ سوسن اردکانی؛ تهران، نگارستان، 1380، در 1003ص؛ شابک 9786005541120؛ چاپ دیگر قم، نظاره، 1396، در 1014ص؛ شابک 9786008394990؛ مترجم: مریم وکیل زاده؛ تهران، البرز فردانش، 1396، در 800ص؛ شابک: 9786002025197؛ نام کتاب برگرفته از شخصیت نخست کتاب –یک دکتر شاعر– است؛ درونمایه ی داستان، زندگی مردیست که عاشق دو زن است، و این همزمان با انقلاب اکتبر 1917میلادی روسیه، و جنگ داخلی در کشور شوراهای آن روزگاران است؛ رخدادهای بیرونی از دسترس ایشان به دور هستند، و مسیر زندگی اش را دگرگون میسازند؛ در سال 1965میلادی «دیوید لین»، با اقتباس و از روی همیین کتاب، فیلمی به همین نام ساختند، و در سال 2005میلادی هم، در روسیه، با اقتباس از متن کتاب، یک سریال ساخته شد.؛ نوشتن کتاب در سال 1956میلادی، پایان یافته بود، ولی به دلیل مخالفت «بوریس پاسترناک» با سیاستهای رسمی دولت «شوروی» در آن سالها، اجازه ی نشر کتاب را، در آن کشور نیافت؛ در سال 1957میلادی، ناشری «ایتالیایی» آنرا در «ایتالیا» چاپ کرد، و نویسنده جایزه ی نوبل گرفتند؛کتاب در سال 1988میلادی، در «روسیه» نیز به چاپ رسید؛ در ایران هم چاپ پنجم از ترجمه جناب «علی محیط» به سال 1342هجری خورشیدی، نایاب بود، اما نسخه ی دیگری نیز یافتم، که با ترجمه ی جناب «علی اصغر خبره زاده»، توسط انتشارات پیروز چاپ ششم اش به سال 1362هجری خورشیدی منتشر شده است؛ اینهم نقل از متن ترجمه ی جناب «علی محیط»: روی یکی از برانکاردها، مردی خوابیده بود، که پایش به طرز وحشیانه ای، قطع شده بود.؛ تراشه ای از یک خمپاره، زبان و لب او را تبدیل به توده ای از گوشت سرخ کرده بود، و با وجود این هنوز زنده بود.؛ جمجمه اش، روی استخوانهای فکش، جایی که گونه ها دریده بودند، استوار بود؛ ناله های او کوتاه، و غیرانسانی بودند، هیچکس نمیتوانست تعبیری برای این ناله ها بنماید، جز اینکه او میخواست هرچه زودتر به زندگی اش خاتمه داده، و به آن شکنجه ی ابدی پایان داده شود.....؛ لحظه ای بعد، هنگامیکه این مجروح بدبخت را، از پلکان بالا میبردند، فریادی کشید، و با یک تکان شدید، بیحرکت شد، او مرده بود؛ پایان نقل از متن بوریس پاسترناک، دکتر ژیواگو، ترجمه جناب علی محیط، نشر گنجینه، 1361هجری خورشیدیتاریخ بهنگام رسانی 07/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
I sometimes stroke my copy of Doctor Zhivago gently. I doubt I will find time to reread it soon, but it is one of those books I like to think I will read again, some day, even though it is written into my heart already, and has stayed there firmly ever since it first entered it decades ago. Is it better than any other of the "masterpieces of world literature"? Probably not. But it is something deeply, deeply personal. Something that affects the human core of the reader beyond any compassion for lost love and broken hope in political change. There is something heartwarming and wonderful about poetry written in the crystal clear cold of Russian winter. There is something beyond the mere storytelling in Doctor Zhivago that makes me want to caress the words that make up the journey of a doctor whose life stayed individual in the dystopian reality of the Russian Revolution and beyond, whose heart kept making him feel alive despite the cold of the era he lived through:"I have the impression that if he didn't complicate his life so needlessly, he would die of boredom."Complicating life is filling it with meaning. Nobody can take that away from us, no matter what our circumstances are.Dare to live, dare to be a poet. Dare to be you.I love this novel to bits, and I also love the old movie, which is so unusual for me that I can't think of any other book/film congruency in my life. But Omar Sharif has just the required life complication in his eyes.
This is a timeless masterpiece. While many readers are going to love this book, I think others will find themselves bogged down by its many details. Certainly those readers who enjoy primarily plot driven novels are going to be frustrated by the dreamy Doctor Zhivago.
Before getting to indulge in this Russian epic, I had to decide what translation to go for. For me, this was a big deal, whether to choose the more reader friendly version, or, a newer translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that sticks closer to Pasternak's original difficult text. I went for the latter simply because if this is how Pasternak wrote it, then I wanted to read it in the purest form. Even if it meant not sitting in the comfort zone for much of the time. Both Pevear and Volokhonsky have worked on much of Dostoyevsky's work, and received translation accolades in the process. I scored this top marks yes, but one thing is certain. I will definitely have to read it again, for a broader and richer experience. I spent half the time thinking so hard about something that went before, and lost track somewhat with the present. There was just so much to take in, even though I read in huge chunks, without distractions, slowly and methodically, it still felt overwhelming. All the signs are there for one heck of a remarkable novel, but I couldn't help feel my hands were only brushing gently over a layer of snow, rather than thrust deeper into all that coldness.The result though, after it's first outing, still remains a special one.Doctor Zhivago opens in the first years of the century, spans the revolution, civil war and terror of the thirties, and ends with an epilogue in the mid-1940s. On a level far deeper than politics and with a strength and sterility that must remove all doubts, it persuades us that the yearning for freedom remains indestructible. Quietly and resolutely Pasternak speaks for the sanctity of human life, turning to those eternal questions which made the Russian novel so magnificent, and he seems to have made a lot of other world-renowned novels seem that little bit more trivial.Pasternak spent ten years up to 1955 working on Doctor Zhivago, he considered it the work that justified not only his own life, but that of fellow Russians who had perished through decades of war. And one thing I can't yet decide on, is whether this is a love story set against the backdrop of war, or a war story set against the backdrop of love. Both play so heavily throughout, yet not one stands out beyond the other. It's little surprise to me that in 1958 rumours began circulating that Pasternak was a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize, which he rightly won. The Academy cited him for an important achievement, in the novel, his contemporary lyrical poetry, and the field of Russian traditions. His vision here is essentially defined by real presence, by the intense physical and emotional sensations of his main characters. Whilst these characters internally are some of the best I have ever come across, it's also worth noting just how important a role the landscape plays. His descriptions here are nothing short of spectacular. I still feel the chill, the snow, the wind, and the big thaw.Pasternak captivates in his characters fallacy, in his world the inanimate nature constantly participates in the action, but there is no historical or psychological analysis in the narrative, no running commentary on the causes of events, or the motives behind the person. This was a masterstroke in creating a deep feeling of the chaos that surrounds them at every turn during the second half of the novel. There is a lot of random movement for no particular reason, chance encounters, sudden out nowhere disruptions, trams and trains coming to an abrupt halt, and the breakdown of communication between all those caught up in the upheavals of war. He portrays happenings as they happen, sometimes right in the middle of something else. And although this may not be music to ears of all, I can fully appreciate just what he set out to achieve, in keeping things as realistic as possible. When you think of civil war, revolutions, and political terror, how on earth can you expect things to run smoothly?And that brings me on to the names, which took some getting use to. The principle characters all go by different names at different points. Sometimes their names would even change mid-sentence. For example, Zhivago ( Yuri Andreievich, Yura, or Yurochka). His wife Tonya (Antonia, Alexandrovna, or Tonechka) and his lover Lara (Larissa, Larochka, Antipova, Gromeko). There is also an extraordinary play with the names of minor characters, they are plausible, but often barely so. Some have oddly specific meaning. Some are so long that for the Russianless reader it has the ability to cause headaches. On places used, some like Moscow are obviously real, but out in the Urals fictional places exist. And there is a big difference in these worlds. One, more historically accurate, the other, almost takes on the feel of folklore. The novel moves around, one place to another and back again, creating a double sense of time, it never stands still. Even when people are just sitting, or in the arms of one another. Once Pasternak reaches the revolutionary period, the novel becomes a kind of spiritual biography, still rich in social references but primarily the record of a mind struggling for survival. What now matters most is the personal fate of Zhivago and his relationships with two other characters, Lara, the woman who is to be the love of his life, and Strelnikov, a partisan leader who exemplifies all of the ruthless revolutionary will that Zhivago lacks. Zhivago's time as a family man and doctor are long gone, and thinking back to the novel's opening sections feels like it was read in another life. Even though it was only a few weeks ago. The huge scale of the story is simply exceptional.There is a section of some twenty pages towards the end that seem to me one of the greatest pieces of imaginative prose written in our time. It soars to a severe and tragic gravity, the likes of which haven't affected me this much before. What Begins as a portrait of Russia, would end as a love story told with the force and purity that's never to be forgotten. A book of truth, of courage, of wisdom, and of beauty, a stunning work of art, where one's final thought is nothing less than a feeling of deep respect for both novel and writer.This version concludes with the 'poems of Yuri Zhivago', which polishes off perfectly the immensely felt novel that went before.
There is one edition of Doctor Zhivago whose cover boasts that it is 'one of the greatest love stories ever told'. In fact, that one tagline is what almost put me off reading this epic novel from Russian master-poet Boris Pasternak. This is a hefty book. I didn't want to dedicate all my time to a soppy love story. Thankfully, calling Doctor Zhivago a 'love story' is like saying Crime and Punishment is about the perils of being a pawnbroker.Doctor Zhivago is a vast novel. Like most great Russian novels, there is a large cast of characters (all of whom go by at least three different names) and many chapters in which a whole lot of nothing happens. Therefore, being a masochist at heart, I just adored it. There is nothing I love more in a book than pages and pages of nothing, and Doctor Zhivago delivers nothingness in abundance. For example there is a whole chapter just set in a train carriage. Over fifty pages we spend in that carriage. Nothing happens. And it's brilliant. If one insists of a plot synopsis then it is a story of Doctor Yuri Zhivago and his attempt to keep his life together as his country crumbles around him.Pasternak's politics are very much at play throughout the novel. The book was famously banned from publication in the Soviet Union and it is no surprise why. Overall I read this work as a searing critique of the modern Soviet state and the bloodshed from which it grew. Pasternak does not side with either the Whites or the Red, both destroyed Zhivago's beloved country. At times Zhivago does become somewhat of a mouthpiece for Pasternak, especially near the end of the novel where it becomes a brutal critique of everything from War Communism to the NEP to Collectivisation. I would suggest a somewhat sound knowledge of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath is needed for this novel, as the entire plot is based around the formation of the Soviet state. I really enjoyed my time with Doctor Zhivago. It is an epic tale of an epic time in modern history. It is throughly readable and wholly enjoyable (something which you can't often vouch for with Russian literature). I would recommend this for Russian lit beginners as it gets the balance of plot and philosophy just right (something which Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy often fail to do).
This is going to be a difficult review to write as I have developed a real love-hate relationship with this book. It is an epic story about a man, who is supposed to be this tragic hero separated from the women he loved by the cruel times of revolution and civil war. If you ask me, he was just a … (fill in with your favourite word for describing a man with commitment and fidelity issues). I guess we can interpret the whole storyline as a metaphor of that period of Russian history, in which case it all makes sense but still doesn't make it „one of the greatest love stories ever told” as advertised on the cover.The first hundred pages of the book are devoted to introducing at length, dozens of characters. You struggle to remember their various names, surnames, patronymics, nicknames and connection with each other only to realise later on that they are never to reappear in the novel. I am not sure what the point of that was, especially when subsequently important events in main characters lives are summarized in a few sentences or omitted altogether.On top of that we have multitudes of completely improbable coincidences. Let's remember that Russia is the biggest country in the world, yet people keep running into each other every other page as if they all lived in a small village. Even your average romance writer wouldn't probably try to pull it off thinking it is a bit too much.We have dealt with the storyline, now let's move on to the style. One thing, dialogue is definitely not Pasternak's forte. His characters don't talk, they orate. The author obviously had his own agenda there so the poor characters had to randomly break into two page long speeches to say what Pasternak wanted to tell us. Actually, I will let one of the characters speak for me now. At some point Lara said: „Instead of being natural and spontaneous as we had always been, we began to be idiotically pompous with each other. Something showy, artificial, forced, crept into our conversation - you felt you had to be clever in a certain way about certain world-important themes.”Touche, Lara, touche. Another interesting thing she said (actually this book would be so much better if it was called Larissa Fyodorovna instead of Doctor Zhivago) was her outlook on philosophy: "I am not fond of philosophical essays. I think a little philosophy should be added to life and art by way of spice, but to make it one's speciality seems to me as strange as feeding on nothing but pickles". And Pasternak definitely loves his pickles.Now that we've dealt with the bad and the ugly, let me tell what was good about this book. It has some of the most captivating descriptions I have come across in literature. This is where Pasternak's true genius comes to the light. I didn't know you can talk about snow in so many different beautiful ways and even though I know most of it was probably lost in translation what I've read was enough to pull this book out of the two-stardom. It maybe would've even pushed it into four-stardom if I had been in a better mood.
The 1965 David Lean film with the same title is one of my all time favorite movies and so it was an inevitability that I would one day, finally, read Boris Pasternak’s novel masterpiece. Like James Dickey and Robert Penn Warren, this novel written by a poet leaves the reader with an idea of lyric quality. Nowhere is his identification as a poet more realized than at the end, as the books finishes with a section of poetry, though there are passages throughout the book that blend seamlessly into an introspective, mystical poetry and back again to the illustrative narrative. This style is a stark contrast to the realistic, journalistic prose of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood written just a few years later but across the pond. The frequent references to Russian mysticism and a longing for an older, idyllic time is reminiscent of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.“The air smells of pancakes and vodka.” This is expressionism feigning realism. The great art of Doctor Zhivago is the connection with the tragic time and place it documents, the Russian transformation into the Soviet Union. Yuri Andreyivich becomes a personification for the lost Russia, his mother’s funeral and his father’s suicide further metaphor for a lost innocence, a cutting off and separation from what was and an isolationist, orphaned stepping into the future. Zhivago’s journey along with his fellow Russians into Soviet communism and his evolving disillusionment is both an allegory of the torture of individuality and a prayer for the undying hope and poetry of human resiliency. Yet Pasternak, and by extension his creation Zhivago, makes allowances for the need for social reform in Russia, and so his later and eventual dissatisfaction with communism has greater weight and credibility.Besides Yuri Andreyivich, Pasternak describes a triumvirate of Russian characters: Pasha/Strelnikov, Kamerovski, and of course, Lara. Pasha, who transforms himself into the Red Army terrorist Strelnikov (who also resembles Conrad’s Kurtz) personifies the Russian idealist who is seduced and blinded by power, who begins with well-intentioned plans and dreams, and comes to murder, outrage and a death of moral courage. Kamerovski could be on a short list of greatest literary villains of the twentieth century. The shameless lawyer, who betrayed Yuri’s parents and ruined Lara, comes to symbolize the debauchery of Czarist Russian, the extravagance and immoral bankruptcy of the times. Lara is Mother Russia, raped by a gilded villain, obligatorily married to an ideal, and in love, hopelessly and tragically, to a poet philosopher with whom togetherness cannot be.I can understand how someone could call this their favorite work of all time, it was beautifully written and, like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, was iconoclastically both epic and intimately personal. I did very much enjoy reading it and Pasternak’s poetic prose gives a magnified appreciation to Lean’s work, which was a fine tribute to the Great Russian novel.
It snowed, it snowed over all the worldFrom end to end.A candle burned on the table,A candle burned. I have spent three hours just writing down my bookmarks in the text, and in the end I realised that all I needed was this little stanza from one of the Zhivago’s poems included at the end of the novel. We need art to illuminate a bleak existence, to comfort us in the cold, lonely hours when sleep refuses to come and the abyss is gazing back at us. Pasternak was such a bright candle in my life, and I was not a little afraid to revisit the novel that so enchanted me in my mid-twenties with the older and more circumspect eyes of an over-fifty y.o.Since joining Goodreads, I have often felt like a little boy in a candy store: “I want that one! And that one over there! And the bright shiny red one there!”. So many new authors claimed my attention that I have virtually stopped re-reading these old friends. The push to remedy this situation, in particular regarding Boris Pasternak, came from three directions : Dostoevsky last year, Dickens and his French Revolution epic this year and, curiously, the poetry/prose of Tarjei Vesaas, also recently. It turns out all three are relevant, at least to me, in the interpretation of the work of Pasternak. Dickens is the easier, as both authors focus on the way revolutions might be explained at the level of a whole society and in a historical context, but they often are destructive on the personal level. The link to Dostoevsky was something that I missed in the early 90’s, but now I have found numerous references to Orthodox mystical revelations and the continuous relevance of the life of Christ. And from Vesaas I got tuned in advance to the deep link between the artist and the greater rhythms of nature. Here’s a short commentary from the translators:‘the accursed questions’ : Dostoevsky coined this phrase (prokliatye voprosy) for the ultimate questions of human existence – the nature of man, the existence of God, the problem of evil, the meaning of life, the riddle of death – “the great Russian questions” as Nicola Chiaromonte called them, which Pasternak raises again in Doctor Zhivago, “when it seemed that history ... had suppressed them forever” So, if somebody were to ask me what is this book about, there is no easy answer: “Life, The Universe, and Everything”, to quote Douglas Adams, and to explain the ambitious scale of the story, the huge cast of characters and the intricacies of the plot. Iuri Antonovich Zhivago is a doctor and a poet, caught up in the Russian Revolution of 1918, and later in the Civil War that ensued. Throughout the novel, Zhivago is torn between the need for survival and his artistic integrity. His emotional landscape and his intellectual aspirations are concentrated into one word : Lara, I’m afraid to name you, so as not to breathe out my soul along with your name. . To understand the importance of Larissa Fyodorovna in the economy of the novel, I appealed to the early adherence of Pasternak to the Symbolist movement. She is Earth Mother, Goddess, Mother Russia, womanhood, peace in a world ravaged by class warfare. To love her is to love life in all its glory for Zhivago, his reason for being, his strength and inpiration. The two other men in Larissa’s life are equally symbolic: one, Khomarovsky, is an opportunistic libertine, an corrupt, egotistic rodent (in other words, he’s a lawyer) that dirties everything he touches, yet manages to gain profit in both pre-revolutionary and revolutionary societies. The other, Pasha Antipov, is the idealistic puritan that dreams of bringing a better world order by killing the old one, and so he becomes an instrument of terror. And for doing good, he, a man of principle, lacked the unprincipledness of the heart, which knows no general cases, but only particular ones, and which is great in doing small things.I don’t intend to belittle the anti-communist value of the novel, or to ignore the religious fervor that drives Iuri Zhivago, his reactionary stance towards the ‘socialist realism’ literary current of his contemporaries, but ever since I first saw the David Lean’s movie and later, when I read the novel for the first time, I was more interested not in what the artist condemns, but in what he believes in. This is one of the reasons the chapters on Lara are so significant to me, the other being that I really loved Julie Christie in the role, even if she is British, and not Russian.The rest of my review here is a sign of laziness, as I find the task of going into detail on the different themes and characters daunting. The novel deserves better than a long list of quotes taken out of context, but I go on holiday in a week and I’m still ten reviews behind ...Nikolai Nikolaevich (Uncle Kolya) is another alter-ego of the author, an intellectual of the old school, with an interest in religion and a pronounced elitist worldview: Every herd is a refuge for giftlessness, whether it’s a faith is Soloviev, or Kant, or Marx. Only the solitary seek the truth, and they break with all those who don’t love it sufficiently. Is there anything in the world that merits faithfulness? Such things are very few. I think we must be faithful to immortality, that other, slightly stronger name for life. We must keep faith in immortality, we must be faithful to Christ. Kolya again, on Christianity and symbolism as an artistic tool: I think that if the beast dormant in man could be stopped by the threat of, whatever, the lockup or requital beyond the grave, the highest emblem of mankind would be a lion tamer with his whip, and not the preacher who sacrifices himself. But the point is precisely this, that for centuries man has been raised above animals and borne aloft not by the rod, but by music: the irresistibility of the unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has been considered up to now that the most important thing in the Gospels is the moral pronouncements and rules, but for me the main thing is that Christ speaks in parables from daily life, clarifying the truth with the light of everyday things. At the basis of this lies the thought that communion among mortals is immortal and that life is symbolic because it is meaningful. Rinse and repeat: ... he developed his long-standing notion of history as a second universe, erected by mankind in response to the phenomena of time and memory. The soul of these books was a new understanding of Christianity, their direct consequence a new understanding of art. Zhivago as a young man, a romantic waiting for a means of expression: Everything in Yura’s soul was shifted and entangled, and everything was sharply original – views, habits, and predilections. He was exceedingly impressionable, the novelty of his perceptions not lending itself to descriptions. The doctor is caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the first months of the revolution, seeing it as a chance to experience life more truly and to the fullness of his abilities: Everything around fermented, grew, and rose on the magic yeast of being. The rapture of life, like a gentle wind, went in a broad wave, not noticing where, over the earth and the town, through walls and fences, through wood and flesh, seizing everything with trembling on its way. In a little village in Ukraine, tending to the wounded soldiers, Iuri has still to experience the disillusionment of the difference between the ideals of the brotherhood of man and the corrupted implementation of the new order: Suddenly everything has changed, the tone the air; you don’t know how to think or whom to listen to. As if you’ve been led all your life like a little child, and suddenly you’re let out – go, learn to walk by yourself. And there’s no one around, no family, no authority. Then you’d like to trust the main thing, the force of life, or beauty, or truth, so that it’s them and not the overturned human principles that guide you, fully and without regret, more fully than it used to be in that peaceful, habitual life that has gone down and been abolished. My favorite scene comes soon after this, as in Iuri’s mind the enthusiasm of the early days of revolution is translated into a declaration of love: In these days one longs so much to live honestly and productively! One wants so much to be part of the general inspiration! And then, amidst the joy that grips everyone, I meet your mysterioulsy mirthless gaze, wandering no one knows where, in some far-off kingdom, in some far-off land. What wouldn’t I give for it not to be there, for it to be written on your face that you are pleased with your fate and need nothing from anyone. So that somebody close to you, your friend or husband, would take me by the hand and ask me not to worry about your lot and not to burden you with my attention. Realism or symbolism? Does Zhivago talks about Larissa Fyodorovna or about Russia that is about to be awakened to civil war after a short honeymoon? There was a roll of thunder, like a plow drawing a furrow across the whole of the sky, and everything grew still. But then four resounding, belated booms rang out, like big potatoes dumped from a shovelful of loose soil in the autumn.The thunder cleared the space inside the dusty, smoke-filled room. Suddenly, like electrical elements, the component parts of existence became tangible – water and air, the desire for joy, earth, and sky. The times of trouble put petty concerns into perspective and bring forward the ‘accursed questions’ Dostoevsky was so fond of. In his time of exile in the Urals, Zhivago struggles to put his thoughts down in a journal: Art always serves beauty, and beauty is the happiness of having form, while form is the organic key to existence, for every living thing must have form in order to exist, and thus art, including tragic art, is an account of the happiness of existing. A happiness that for him has a name: Since childhood Yuri Andreevich had loved the evening forest shot through with the fire of sunset. In such moments it was as if he, too, let these shafts of light pass through him. As if the gift of the living spirit streamed into his breast, crossed through his whole being, and came out under his shoulder blades like a pair of wings. That youthful archetype, which is formed in every young man for the whole of life and serves him forever after and seems to him to be his inner face, his personality, awakened in him with its full primary force, and transformed nature, the forest, the evening glow, and all visible things into an equally primary and all-embracing likeness of a gril. “Lara!” – closing his eyes, he half whispered or mentally addressed his whole life, the whole of God’s earth, the whole sunlit expanse spread out before him. If the message was not clear enough already, Iuri has more: Oh, how sweet it is to exist! How sweet to live in the world and to love life! Oh, how one always longs to say thank you to life itself, to existence itself, to say it right in their faces!And that is what Lara is. It is impossible to talk to them, but she is their representative, their expression, the gift of hearing and speech, given to the voiceless principles of existence. Nature itself gains antropomorphic qualities when viewed through the eyes of the poet: The first heralds of spring, a thaw. The air smells of pancake and vodka, as during the week before Lent, when nature herself seems to rhyme with the calendar. Somnolent, the sun in the forest narrows its buttery eyes; somnolent, the forest squints through its needles like eyelashes; the puddles at noontime have a buttery gleam. Nature yawns, stretches herself, rolls over on the other side, and falls asleep again. You might ask, but is this woman mute, a mystery, a closed door ? Do we only know her through the eyes of Zhivago, or is she a real person, with a mind of her own? Lara walked beside the rails along a path beaten down by wanderers and pilgrims and turned off on a track that led across a meadow to the forest. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes, breathed in the intricately fragrant air of the vast space around her. It was dearer to her than a father and mother, better than a lover, and wiser than a book. For an instant the meaning of existence was again revealed to Lara. She was here – so she conceived – in order to see into the mad enchantment of the earth, and to call everything by name, and if that was beyond her strength, then, out of love for life, to give birth to her successors, who would do it in her place. Her wisdom and her love is more instinctive than the intellectual flame of the poet, but that does not make them less true: I don’t like works devoted entirely to philosophy. I think philosophy should be used sparingly as a seasoning for art and life. To be occupied with it alone is the same as eating horseradish by itself. She responds to the love of this tormented man with unconditional warmth and devotion: I don’t think I’d love you so deeply if you had nothing to complain of and nothing to regret. I don’t like the righteous ones, who never fell, never stumbled. Their virtue is dead and of little value. The beauty of life has not been revealed to them. Yet, they are not destined to live happily ever after: You understand, we’re in different positions. Wings were given you so as to fly beyond the clouds, and to me, a woman, so as to press myself to the ground and shield my fledgling from danger. In the end, this is a sprawling epic that lets symbolism take precedence over plot coherence and character motivations. The condemnation of a corrupted system of values is more evident now than in my previous lectures (view spoiler)[ Zhivago dies of a broken heart, equating intellectual constraints with physical illness; Lara / Mother Russia disappears in the Gulag during Stalin’s pogroms, and their child grows up anonymous, a soldier of the new order, without history or higher ambitions (hide spoiler)]
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