Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago Getting through Doctor Zhivago was more of a challenge than I had anticipated.  It was not the content that was a struggle, but rather the litany of characters Mr. Pasternak introduces and revisits at varying intervals.  I like to keep track of characters as I read, and this was the lengthiest list by far.  The overabundance of patronymic names made for lengthy note taking and the use of multiple nicknames even more so.  Alas I report the latest excuse for my delayed post.

I spoke to several people while reading who said they’d seen the movie (I have not and am eager to), but had never read the book.  The repeated impressions reported to me were that of a train and lots of snow.  No spoilers were provided.

Opening in early 20th century Russia, Doctor Zhivago begins with the Russian revolution and moves into the Bolshevik uprising in Moscow.  The equally brutal Reds and Whites fight for what they believe is their only hope for a life worth living.  All is seen through Doctor Zhivago’s eyes as he manages to survive both sides of the bloodshed.

Yurii Andreievich Zhivago, Yura, Yurochka, Doctor Zhivago, the book’s namesake loses his mother at a young age and his father to suicide so is raised by an uncle and exposed to a variety of experiences.  He seems to take the events around him in stride as secret revolutionary plans unfold and people disappear on a regular basis.  He maintains his roles as physician and manages to marry, have a child and carry on with two mistresses.  My impression of the dear doctor…schmuck.  He leaves behind his family, has an affair and then marries another and has another child.  All the while, he seems rather unaffected by the fighting, starvation, executions and collapse of life around him.  Perhaps it was Pasternak’s way of trying to seem unsympathetic to those under government scrutiny.

Victor Komarovsky is a lawyer who purportedly encouraged Zhivago’s father’s suicide.  He seduces the young Lara, the daughter of his mistress.  Komarovsky is the type of man who seems to glide on air never having to allow his feet to touch the dirt beneath his feet and manages to maintain a connection with Lara for years by providing things others have given up on.  In a word, or two, sleaze ball.

Larisa Feodorovna Guishar, aka Lara has an affair with her mother’s lover, Komarovsky, who she tries to kill, but only grazes.  She marries Pasha Antipov who she grew up with and they move to Yuriatin and have a daughter.  Antipov joins the war in an attempt at resolving imagined marital strife.  He later takes on a new persona, Strelnikov, a callous leader of the Reds and continues to elude his wife and family.  His reputation haunts him and he takes his life when he can no longer maintain a life on the run.  Poor, misguided fool…


About dreams.  It is usually taken for granted that you dream of something that has made a particularly strong impression on you during the day, but it seems to me it’s just the contrary.  Often it’s something you paid no attention to at the time–a vague thought that you didn’t bother to think out to the end, words spoken without feeling and which passed unnoticed–these are the things that return at night, clothed in flesh and blood, and they become the subjects of dreams, as if to make up for having been ignored during waking hours.

Reshaping life!  People who can say that have never understood a thing about life–they have never felt its breath, its heartbeat–however much they have seen or done.  They look on it as a lump of raw material that needs to be processed by them, to be ennobled by their touch.  But life is never a material, a substance to be molded.  If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my obtuse theories about it.

None of this can mean anything to you.  You couldn’t understand it.  You grew up differently.  There was the world of hunger, overcrowding, the degradation of the worker as a human being, the degradation of women.  And there was the world of the mother’s darlings, of smart students and rich merchants’ sons, the world of impunity, of brazen, insolent vice; of rich mean laughing or shrugging off the tears of the poor, the robbed, the insulted, the seduced; the reign of parasites, whose only distinction was that they never troubled themselves about anything , never gave anything to the world, and left nothing behind them.  

Meeting Mr. Pasternak would certainly be a pleasure and I’d love to ask him about his decision to remain in Moscow rather than flee like many did.  I’d be most interested in where he actually wrote his Nobel (albeit delayed) awarded book and what inspired him to publish what did turn out to be such a controversial book for its time.

My rating for Doctor Zhivago is an 8 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher…The Fall of the House of Usher


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