Author: Boris Pasternak
No. of Pages: 558
First Released: 1958
Synopsis (Courtesy of Edmund Wilson of The New Yorker, 1958): “…one of the very great books of our time…. The incidents succeed one another with so much invention and vivacity, with such range of characterization and description, each submerges us so completely in the atmosphere of its moment of Russian life… Doctor Zhivago will, I believe, come to stand as one of the great events in man’s literary and moral history. Nobody could have written it in a totalitarian state and turned it loose on the world who did not have the courage of genius…. His book is a great act of faith in art and in the human spirit.”
Comments and Critique: Caution – this is definitely NOT the movie. The movie took liberties and focused on the love story between Lara and Yuri. For those who think that this book is going to be just like the movie, please take note.
Now that I have that out of the way, Mr. Pasternak’s novel is very much a love story but rather than between man and woman, it is between a man and his country. Mr. Pasternak’s love for Russia is evident in the care he takes with the scenery and developing the characters in such a way that the reader truly understands what it means to be Russian. His pastoral descriptions are breath-taking and make one want to move to Siberia. His dialogue is pure poetry.
There is so much that occurs in this novel that it is difficult to summarize them into one short assessment. Dr. Zhivago’s life is truly tragic and mirrors pre– and post-revolutionary Russia. From the loss of his mother at a young age to the loss of his beloved Lara, Yuri faces world wars, civil war, imprisonment by revolutionaries, and so much more. Lara, too, faces her own trials and tribulations throughout the novel. In fact, the best description is that each major character faces his or her own personal revolution. Interspersed with the tragic details are details about life in revolutionary Russia.
Speaking of revolutionary Russia, as an American, the descriptions of life in the early stages of the U.S.S.R. is fascinating. Mr. Pasternak gives the reader a glimpse of a world that the Western world has vilified and which the Russian culture has kept secret from outsiders. It is an amazing study of culture and history, written by a man who truly does love his country. I feel privileged to have been able to get a glimpse of this mysterious world. In addition, it has helped me understand a bit more about the Cold War and the machinations behind it.
Make no mistake, this is an extremely challenging read. However, if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with a better understanding of Soviet Russia, the Russian culture, and with some of the most beautiful passages I have ever had the pleasure of reading. This isn’t for the faint of heart, and I’ll admit that I had to do some side research to make sure that I understood the history behind the story. In spite of that, I am extremely glad that I read this novel and would recommend it to others who are interested in Russian history.