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Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago (1957)

by Boris Pasternak

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This famous novel of the Russian revolution and Civil War became a cause celebre when its publication was cancelled by Soviet authorities and Pasternak had the manuscript smuggled out of the country for publication. Doctor Zhivago was cited by the Swedish Academy when it awarded Pasternak the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 (an award that Pasternak refused, under pressure from the Soviet government). ( )
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  Tutter | Feb 28, 2015 |
a funny thing happened on the way to reading this book - i remembered pasternak's niece had written a review of the new translation by pevear and volokhonsky, so i looked it up (linked below). i didn't read the whole thing until after i finished the novel, but i read enough to know she is not a fan. which was a total bummer. i have come to love the work P&V do translating the russian classics. but i am at a huge disadvantage because i don't speak russian, all i know is that when i have read their translations, i have come away feeling as though the integrity of the original has been maintained and that the voices of the authors come through.

well, it turns out i own two copies of doctor zhivago, this hardcover translation by P&V, along with an e-pub edition of the max hayward and manya harari edition ann pasternak slater notes and compares in her review. so i decided to read from each book. guess what? pevear and volokhonsky totally won!


"In those first day, people like the soldier Pamphil Palykh, who, without any agitation, had a fierce, brutal hatred of the intelligentsia, the gentry, and the officers, seemed a rare find to the rapturous left-wing intelligentsia and were greatly valued."

"In those early days, men like Pamphil Palykh, who needed encouragement to hate intellectuals, officer and gentry with a savage haters, were regarded by enthusiastic left-wing intellectuals as a rare find and greatly valued."

pasternak slater complains, in her review, that much of her uncle's force was lost in the P&V translation -- but i did not feel this to be the case at all. as i was reading, i felt the strength of the work, its urgency. at times, it was almost too chaotic but that must be purposeful and a representation of what it was like for people living through this time in history. so i now feel that pasternak slater is just too close to the work to have an unbiased opinion.

so now that my translation ramble is out of the way... what did i think of the novel?

i feel like i just read the lovechild of tolstoy and dostoevsky. pasternak has moments of beautiful prose and observations (like tolstoy), and then these more frantic, chaotic turns (like dostoevsky). but i found myself wondering about (sometimes distracted by) the political nature of the novel, and whether pasternak intended it to serve a higher purpose? yet, in reading the introduction to the P&V translation (written by richard peaver), it is noted ... he was the first to oppose the Soviet regime and its ideology so openly and so effectively. And yet Pasternak was not at all a political man; the public realm and the conflict of ideologies did not interest him." pevear does go on to say that the book speaks in the name of something else altogether, but that 'something else' was a subject of confusion for readers and critics when the book was first released in the west.

overall i feel this is a pretty important book in the literary canon. but now that i have finally read it, i wonder how many people have come to it expecting a great love story (thanks to julie christie/omar sharif) and then wondered 'what the heck?' i guess there's love in it? maybe more like crazy passions? or 'if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with'. but zhivago is not a romantic hero to be held up as the epitome of a leading man. he's a greatly flawed dude when it comes to the ladies. or being a parent.

i had some issues with the coincidences that kept cropping up. i mean -- russia is, you know, a damn huge place. each time character's would unexpectedly cross paths with one another, i did have to roll my eyes a little bit. in the introduction, pevear includes an excerpt from a letter pasternak wrote to a teacher in england: "The frequent coincidences in the plot are (in this case) not the secret, trick expedients of the novelist. They are the traits to characterize that somewhat willful, free, fanciful flow of reality." that didn't make me feel better. it was totally a trick, borichka! heh.

i never know how to review classic works. so i am sorry this is not very coherent and kind of rambly. but these are the strange thoughts i had while reading the book. (it should also be noted that i read this in january, in toronto, during an extreme cold alert, while dealing with pneumonia and crazy fevers. which, you know, makes totaly sense and, i think, added to my reading experience. it was like i was right there suffering the typhus on the taiga. vashe zdorovie!

/feverish rambling

guardian review: boris pasternak's niece, a literary scholar and translator, reviewed the newest translation by P&V, for the guardian. she (ann pasternak slater) was not so amused.: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/nov/06/doctor-zhivago-boris-pasternak-tran... ( )
  DawsonOakes | Jan 9, 2015 |
I was very impressed with this new translation of one of my old favorites. I've read this book so many times since 1966, but this translation makes the book pares the romance from the real, making the book as if it is about everyman:

  conniekronlokken | Jan 6, 2015 |
When I was a little less than half-way through Doctor Zhivago, I mentioned it casually to a thoughtful and well-read friend. "Ugh," he said without hesitation and rolled his eyes. I was confused by this--I was enjoying it so far. Sure there were a million characters, each with multiple names, but the Internet helps with this a lot. And the author does a pretty good job of reminding you who's who as you go along.

Granted, I expected to have trouble with this book. I have a pretty shaky grasp of Russian history. It wasn't taught in my grade schools, and I didn't pursue it in college. My 9th grade English teacher taught us Animal Farm as an Aesop's-Fable-type story about the importance of knowing your place. I expected to get lost in some of the "who's fighting who when and ostensibly why" details of this novel, which stretches from the early 1900s through World War II--a pretty active time in Russia. And I did.

But I kept reading (rather, listening; I got it on CD for my commute). I read without an undeniable amount of eye rolling until chapter 13, "Opposite the House of Sculptures." And then it lost me; I turned. Glancing through other reviews on Goodreads, I'm not the only one who turned at this point. It's a ginormous chapter in which two characters who are supposed to have the most pure, passionate love ever known to existence speak to each other in impersonal monologues, explaining their feelings and large sections of the plot that the reader has already witnessed.

The chapter probably shouldn't feel so ridiculously long and boring and forehead-slappingly unbelievable. The reader is supposed to understand the intense passion that these two feel for each other. The problem, obviously, is that we don't. And this was the point in the book when I realized that there wasn't going to be any further character development. The characters were fully formed, but they were wooden. The only other explanation for their reactions, emotions, and absences we'd get would be delivered in monologue--either by themselves or the narrator.

I felt and understood this great love exactly once: [spoilers ahead!] Yuri is headed home to confess his affair with Lara to his pregnant wife, Tonia. On the way, he convinces himself that he really didn't end things right with Lara and should probably go back and talk to her again. (Eye rolling, because you want him to be better--this poet/philosopher/physician--but it's realistic.) He's so overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Lara again, even if it's just to break up with her. But then, on the way, when the reader is anticipating a beautiful love scene, he gets kidnapped by partisans. And marches around the woods with them for about 2 years. And then, when he finally escapes, he goes to Lara's house first so that they can give speeches at each other for hours. "Ugh." [spoilers over]

After that turn in chapter 13, Doctor Zhivago wasn't able to win me back. The coincidences get ludicrous. Reading this, you'd think there are only about four houses in Russia, because everyone keeps appearing at the same places. They walk straight across Siberia and end up at the same house. Really.

(All of that said, Pasternak comes up with some of the more beautiful nature descriptions I've ever read. His scene descriptions are the strongest part of the novel. And the relationship between Lara and Komarovsky in part 1 is, oddly, the most believable and human relationship in the book.)

Once I finished the book, I read the Wikipedia page and a few other online resources. Maybe, I thought, I missed something. Maybe each of these characters is a metaphor for some aspect of Russian culture or history that is lost on me in my ignorance. Maybe that would explain they way they all interact with each other, fade and reappear, go to their fates. But no. At least, I didn't find an interpretation that supported that theory.

So, the question remains: Why is this Nobel-winning novel such a drag? Maybe it's because it's written in a style that modern (American) readers aren't familiar enough with--like trying to watch Lawrence Olivier act and wondering how anyone could ever have stood him for a whole movie. It's not very old (smuggled out of Russia and published in Italy in 1958), but it's a bit old, and it's Russian. Or maybe the reason for its popularity and critical success during the Soviet era had a lot more to do with what it said about the Soviets and less about its plot and characterization. Are the readers or the book to blame?

I don't have enough information to answer the question. But if you're a student of Russian history, I encourage you to read Doctor Zhivago and tell me what you think. Let's talk about it. Because it's very possible I just missed something obvious, and you have something to teach me. ( )
1 vote JLSmither | Dec 6, 2014 |
One of the hardest classic novels I have ever read. I am not sure why, but I had to push myself through this one. I remembered seeing the 1965 movie and 2002 TV miniseries and both encouraged me to actually read the book. Dr. Zhivago is written well, it is easy to understand, but most of the passages in the book are descriptive. Long paragraphs are handed over to describing the physical and the emotional; scenery, weather, objects, thoughts, feelings. There is also a great deal of unfinished thoughts and story arcs that could have been pursued to a relevant conclusion. The story, however, is really, very good. The struggle is very human, the loss, the strife, the emotions are very real and palpable throughout. Despite the difficulty in reading this book, it has become a favourite, and I am glad I read it. ( )
  codename_walter | Sep 23, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (80 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pasternak, Borisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Guerney, Bernard GuilbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harari, ManyaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hayward, MaxTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Konkka, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scheepmaker, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On they went, singing "Rest Eternal," and whenever they stopped, their feet, the horses, and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.
The fear known as spymania had reduced all speech to a single formal, predictable patter. The display of good intentions in discourse was not conductive to conversation.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679774386, Paperback)

n celebration of the 40th anniversary of its original publication, here is the only paperback edition now available of the classic story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:50 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Yuri Zhivago, doctor and poet, lives and loves during the first three decades of 20th-century Russia.

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