Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

It has only taken me about 30 odd years but at last I got around to reading Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. The 506 closely printed pages had put me off all those years, but I must say that I really did enjoy it. I suppose most people will have already read it or at least seen the fab film, starring the gorgeous Omar Sharif as Doctor Zhivago.

Having read Liza/A Nest of Nobles by Turgenev recently I have to say that I think Doctor Zhivago is far better than Liza. I know there is about 100 years in between the publication of the two books, so it maybe isn’t fair to compare them, but there is just so much more in Doctor Zhivago to get your teeth into.

The Zhivago family had been wealthy, and Yura could remember a time when he was a child when there were Zhivago factories and a Zhivago bank. But his father lost all of their money and committed suicide. Yura’s mother was already dead.

When Yura (Yurii) grows up he becomes a doctor and marries his childhood sweetheart, Tonya. They have a son and when Tonya is pregnant for the second time Yura starts an affair with Lara. Lara had was married to her childhood sweetheart, Pasha, but she believed him to be dead. Using the name of Strelnikov, he was now high up in the Red Army. Was he modelled on Trotsky?

Whilst on one of his journey’s to Lara’s house Yura is abducted at gunpoint by some soldiers who are in search of him to replace their dead doctor but eventually he escapes from the army and ends up back with Lara.

It’s years since I saw the film but I seem to remember that the whole thing concentrates on the love affair between Yura and Lara and I thought that Tonya (his wife) was portrayed as a sort of feckless pain in the neck. Presumably the director David Lean thought he had to do that because people would not be keen on the truth, which was that Yura started screwing around when he realised that his wife was pregnant. I could be completely mis-remembering it. Anyway Pasternak wrote Tonya as being very resourceful and strong, coping with her child, her elderly father and a nursemaid who was still a child herself.

On the other hand Lara hadn’t even managed to seal up the rat holes in her apartment, with the result that the rats were everywhere. I think if I had been in that situation I would have played ‘splat the rat’ until they got the idea and skedaddled.

Yes, as ever, I’m on the side of the wife!

If you are into history, then you will definitely get a lot out of the book which it just isn’t possible to put in a film and as Russia/the Soviet Union has always fascinated me, the book was right up my street.

I was brought up during ‘the Cold War’ when the U.S.S.R. threat was always in the background – especially as my dad worked in the nearby nuclear submarine base at Coulport on the River Clyde. I was still in primary school when I realised that there was a Soviet nuclear missile pointing straight at us, so there wasn’t any point in worrying about it as we would be blasted into oblivion very quickly.

Happy days.

2 thoughts on “Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

  1. Loved your comment about splat the rat! I read this a couple of years ago for my IRL classics group and I have to say I was underwhelmed. Maybe I would have gotten more out of it if I knew more about the history and time period. I just did not get the love between Lara and Zhivago — I remember in the movie it’s so beautiful and tragic, blah blah, but I didn’t see it in the book at all! In fact, it seemed like he was only interested in Lara after his wife pointed it out. I finished the book but I wasn’t so impressed.

    • I think it’s the bits of Russian history which interest me most. As you say Tonya seems to have kick started his interest in Lara. He complains that his wife’s skin has coarsened and she has lost her looks because she is pregnant, and takes up with Lara. What a swine!
      I think Pasternak got the Nobel prize for the book for purely political reasons, so it’s fair enough that he ended up turning it down. I still preferred it to Turgenev’s Liza but I’ll have to read more Russian lit. in general as I don’t have much to compare it with.

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