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Doctor Zhivago (1957)

by Boris Pasternak

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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10,322134567 (3.86)2 / 641
First published in Italy in 1957 amidst international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Here is a masterful chronicle of its outbreak and the consequences: army revolts, irrational killings, starvation, epidemics, Communist Party inquisitions. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago's love for the tender and beautiful Lara: pursued, found, and lost again, Lara is the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times. This edition (the only paperback edition now available) includes an introduction by the distinguished Oxford University scholar John Bayley. It reacquaints a new generation of readers with the controversy surrounding the original publication of Doctor Zhivago and places the book in the context of Soviet literary history and the fall of the Soviet Union. Book jacket.… (more)
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English (117)  French (3)  Spanish (3)  Hebrew (2)  Italian (2)  Yiddish (2)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  Greek (1)  Slovak (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (134)
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”The forest does not change its place, we cannot lie in wait for it and catch it in the act of change. Whenever we look at it, it seems to be motionless. And such also is the immobility to our eyes of the eternally growing, ceaselessly changing history, the life of society moving invisibly in its incessant transformations."

Doctor Zhivago is about nothing, if not about change, transformation, upheaval and survival. Set against the background of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, Doctor Zhivago is a love story between a man and his wife, a man and his mistress and a man and his country. It catalogs the atrocities and the progressions of a political system that seeks to destroy the individual in the name of saving the masses. But, more importantly, it catalogs the attempt of one man to reconcile the ideals of his heart with the realities of a Marxist society. That he dies of a heart failure seems appropriate to me on so many levels.

The story encompasses, in the life of its title character, all the possibilities of love and suffering open to humankind. The desertion of Yuri Zhivago by his parents (one by leaving and one by death) starts Yuri on his fated journey into a world where partings become commonplace, but where heartache never ceases to accompany them. The love story between Zhivago and Lara is so deep and poignant that it takes your breath at moments.

I was moved by the beauty of the writing, the stark imagery, and the character development that extends itself to even the least significant characters. Pasternak is a poet, and the entire book is a poem, as lyrical as the life’s blood he pumps into his protagonist’s veins.

“They loved each other, not driven by necessity, by the "blaze of passion" often falsely ascribed to love. They loved each other because everything around them willed it, the trees and the clouds and the sky over their heads and the earth under their feet.”

He details the effects of the political changes around him and he seems to lament most of all the loss of personality, of independent thought, of individuality.

The root of all the evil to come was the loss of confidence in the value of one's own opinion. People imagined that it was out of date to follow their own moral sense, that they must sing in chorus, and live by other people's notions, notions that were being crammed down everybody's throat.

Too often when you have loved a book and then see the movie, or have loved a movie and then read the book, there is some disappointment you cannot help feeling toward one media or the other. David Lean did a remarkable job of bringing to life on screen a book that is truly epic in its scope and its meaning. I am pleased to find that this is one time when the movie and the book complement one another perfectly. I approved of the changes that the movie made to both the beginning and the ending of the story--it served to hold the story together in a very cohesive manner and lost nothing of the impact or importance. Eliminating the third “wife” from the tale seems to be an improvement to me. I found it hard to imagine Zhivago cohabitating with another woman and fathering children with her after having loved both Tonia and Lara. It somehow diminishes his love to have this third lover. Minor objection when you consider the fine quality of the book at large.

If you have never seen the movie, you should see it. If you have never read the book, you are missing something unique and remarkable. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
It is not easy to keep track of the many characters which are addressed variously by first name and patronymic, surname and nickname(s). I found the Character map of Doctor Zhivago published by Wikipedia an indispensable help.

P. tells the life-story of Jurij Andréitsch Schiwago from the age of 13 or 14 in 1903 until his death in the summer of 1929 with a short prolog and an epilog set in 1943: Doktor Schiwago: born, as Pasternak, around 1890, Physician and, as P., an Intellectual and Poet. Interwoven with Schiwago’s life-story Pasternak pictures the turbulent times of the civil war during the transition of his country from Russia to the Soviet Union and gives a vivid description how people from many walks of life trying to weather the great storm of the revolution.

Although we are witness to the innermost thoughts of Schiwago, we don’t see everything always through his eyes alone; we are also told the thoughts and feelings of many of the other persons. In this the narrative is conventional, not so in other ways. In the first book threads are taken up which are later knotted (sich verknoten) to form a net of encounters.

Many of these are chance encounters: This makes this vast country shrink and look more like some region small enough to meet by chance. This compositional device holds the events together but makes me very conscious of it as an artifice – much more so than I would like. Could Pasternak have avoided it? It is not up to me to answer this.

Narration of situations and encounters (Handlung) is interspersed by Gesprächen: Monologe, Dialoge: philosophische, emotionale:

Nikolai Nikolaitsch: a short discourse about life, art, science in human history (1.Buch, 1:V, S.16-18).
Nikolai Nikolaitschs Ansichten über die Judenfrage von Gordon ausgesprochen (1.Buch, 4:XII, 146-148)
Beschreibung einer Sommernacht: „Es war, als erwache die Erde zum Bewußtsein“ (1.Buch, 5:VI, 166)
Im geheimnisvollen Schnellzug: Jurijs Gedanken und Gespräch mit dem jungen Jäger über die Wirren des Krieges und die kommende Revolution (1.Buch, 5:XV-XVI)
Jurijs trunkene Rede zu seinen Freunden über die kommende Revolution; sein „Bewußtsein der Ohnmacht angesichts der Zukunft“ (1.Buch, 6:VI, 214-215)
Jurijs Ablehnung des Marxismus as unwissenschaftlich und nicht objektiv im Gespräch mit Samdewjatov. (2.Buch, 1:IV, 308); die bolschewistische Revolution as ‚historische Notwendigkeit‘? (V, 311).
Sein Tagebuch über das Leben in Warykino (2:I-IX, 330-343), dort: über Puschkin und die ‚Sprache‘ des Kunstwerkes (2:IV,335-6) und Puschkin u. Tschechov gegenüber Gogol, Tolstoi u. Dostojewskij (VII, 340); dann: Wie wird man zu einem Gelehrten? Wie zu einem Künstler? „Nur die Irrtümer seiner Vorgänger haben aus Faust einen Gelehrten gemacht. Um einen Schritt vorwärts zu machen, muß man sich gegen Irrtümer der Vorgänger auflehnen.“ „Zum Künstler dagegen wurde Faust durch das Beispiel seiner Lehrmeister. Man entwickelt sich weiter durch die Nachahmung und Nachfolge von Vorbildern, die man verehrt.“ (VII, 339) Gut gesagt! Meine eigenen Erfahrungen lehrten mich ähnliches.
Jurij beschreibt die Augenblicke der Inspiration beim Schreiben: „Die Sprache beginnt selber zu denken und für den Menschen zu denken […] , er empfand, dass nicht mehr er selbst es war, der die Arbeit verrichtete …“ (Wieder in Warykino, 515)
Jurij: „Die lebendige, vom Leben geformte Sprache, die auf natürliche Weise mit dem Geist der Zeit [des Beginns des 20ten Jahrhunderts] übereinstimmt, ist die Sprache der Städte, der elektrischen Strassenbahnen, .… Für das Hirtenidyll ist hier kein Raum.“ (Ende, 574)

Die Sprache der direkten Reden kommt mir öfters etwas unnatürlich vor. Hat Pasternak dies gewollt (als Verfremdungseffekt)? Oder zeichnet es nur diese Übersetzung - wohl unter Zeitdruck ausgeführt - aus? (I-14 / V-22) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | May 19, 2022 |
Here's what I wrote after reading in 1986: "Doctor Zhivago, a member of the propertied class, caught in the chaos of the Russion Revolution. 'The lofty ideal has degenerated into crude materialism . . . The Russian Englightenment has become the Russian Revolution.' " ( )
  MGADMJK | Jan 3, 2022 |
Yuri Zhivago se relaciona com duas mulheres, sua esposa Tonya e sua amante Lara. Sobre o pano de fundo da Primeira Guerra Mundial, da Revolução Bolchevique e a subsequente guerra civil na Rússia vemos o impacto da história sobre os personagens.

Zhivago luta para manter sua individualidade em um momento em que os indivíduos são considerados como buchas de sacrifício pela Rússia czarista em sua guerra contra a Alemanha, enquanto aqueles que sobrevivem se veem empurrados para uma sociedade incipiente, governada pelos bolcheviques que consideram conceitos como individualismo como ultrapassado e perigoso.

Zhivago e aqueles próximos a ele são meros atores na enorme convulsão social em que estão sendo arrastados, mas Pasternak os tira da obscuridade para dissecar suas psiques e colocar uma perspectiva humana nos tempos em que vivem. Enquanto milhões morrem durante guerras e fome, Zhivago fica dividido entre seu amor por Tonya e Lara e as traições que isso inevitavelmente traz. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Sep 17, 2021 |
A book of intense, atmospheric moments set against the tumultuous backdrop of 20th century Russian history. Although worthy of being regarded a classic, this didn't feel like anything in the thread of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. I tend to prefer novels that do more with fewer characters rather than the oversprawling saga as written. I haven't seen the movie, but maybe that cuts to the heart of the story more directly. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Aug 22, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)
A la découverte de la littérature russe
Publié en 1958, ce roman n'est autorisé à paraître en URSS qu'en 1985. Cette autorisation est un signe de l'ouverture souhaitée par Mikhaïl Gorbatchev. Le Docteur Jivago dépeint le passage de l'Empire russe à l'URSS, qui s'est traduit par une horrible guerre civile marquant les esprits de toute la population. Un chef-d’œuvre pour découvrir une Sibérie attachante et accueillante.
added by Joop-le-philosophe | editEdiLivre, Flora (Apr 22, 2017)
 
At the beginning of his novel Pasternak deliberately deprives the Zhivago family of its wealth, as a kind of symbolic prelude to the revolution that is to come. Like so much else in the novel it happens as arbitrarily as if in a fairy tale: the rich king suddenly becomes a poor beggar. “There was a Zhivago factory, a Zhivago bank, Zhivago buildings, a Zhivago necktie pin,…and at one time if you said ‘Zhivago’ to your sleigh driver in Moscow, it was as if you had said: ‘Take me to Timbuctoo!’ and he carried you off to a fairy tale kingdom.” This wealth of gold both symbolizes and contrasts with the wealth of life which will be the precious gift and possession of the son, the hero of the novel...

Tossed about like corks in the tumult, people are thrown up against one another in all sorts of unexpected ways and places. The ruthless partisan commander turns out to be the same young officer we used to know, rumored to have been killed in an attack on the Austrian entrenchments in 1916. The old Swiss lady walking past the trolley in which Zhivago has his fatal heart attack was the former governess of a noble Russian whom he had known briefly when they both worked at a hospital during the war. And this final coming together is in any case unknown to both parties, without apparent significance. And yet everything in life has significance, just because it is life, the thing itself, and not the abstract vision of how it ought to be for which the tyrants of ideology drench the world in blood. As Zhivago observes, you must live, you cannot always be making preparations for living—a sharp comment on the Communist promise that everything is going to be wonderful, some day in the future.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew York Review of Books, John Bayley (Mar 7, 1991)
 
Those who expect some kind of counter-revolutionary or anti-Soviet journalism from Dr Zhivago will be disappointed. It is not, in that sense, a political novel at all, although it is entirely about the effects of the revolution of 1905, the First World War, the 1917 revolution and the last war, upon a group of families of the upper-class intelligentsia and others. Pasternak is apolitical. His temper is Christian; Marxism is dismissed scornfully as half-baked folly and pomposity...

There is no cliche of invention in Pasternak; there is no eccentricity either. He has the eye of nature. Another refreshing quality is the freedom from the Anglo-American obsession with sex. In love, he is concerned with the heart. It is hard to imagine an English, French or American novel on Pasternak’s subject that would not be an orgy of rape or creeping sexuality.

Dr Zhivago is a great mound of minutely observed particulars and this particularity is, of course, expressive of his central attitude - his stand for private life and integrity.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew Yorker, V.S. Pritchett
 
Doctor Zhivago has no doubt been much read—like other books that promise to throw some light on the lives of our opposite numbers in the Soviet Union—out of simple curiosity. But it is not really a book about Russia in the sense that the newspaper accounts of it might lead the reader to expect; it is a book about human life, and its main theme is death and resurrection...

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. May his guardian angel be with him! His book is a great act of faith in art and in the human spirit.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew Yorker, Edmund Wilson
 

» Add other authors (135 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
Pasternak Slater, AnnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pasternak Slater, NicolasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pasternak, LeonidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prins, AaiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reschke, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scheepmaker, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Slater, MayaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zveteremich, PietroTranslatorsecondary 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.
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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.
After two or three stanzas that came pouring and several metaphors by which he was himself surprised, the work took possession of him, and he began to feel the presence of what is called inspiration. At such moments the correlation of the forces that govern artistic genius have as it were been turned upside down. It is no longer the man and the state of his soul, for which he is seeking expression, that are in the ascendancy now, but the language. his instrument of expression. Language, the home and dwelling of beauty and meaning, itself begins to think and speak for man and turns wholly into music, not in the sense of outward, audible sounds, but by virtue of the power and momentum of its inward flow. Then, like the current of a mighty river polishing stones and turning wheels by its very movement, the flow of speech creates in passing, by the force of its own laws, rhyme and rhythm and countless other forms and formations, still more important and until now undiscovered, unconsidered and unnamed.
The rising sun had cast the long dewy shadow of trees in loops over the park grounds. The shadow was not black but dark gray like wet felt. The heady fragrance of the morning seemed to come from this damp shadow on the ground, with strips of light in it like a girl’s fingers. Suddenly a streak of quicksilver, as shiny as the dew on the grass, flowed by him a few paces away. It flowed on and on and the ground did not absorb it. Then, with an unexpectedly sharp movement, it swerved aside and vanished.
He began to write down the legend of St George and the Dragon in lyrical form. He started with broad, spacious pentameter, but its harmony, derived from the metre itself, and independent of the sense, annoyed him by its slick, humdrum sing-song. He gave up the pompous rhythm and the caesura and cut down the lines to four beats, as you cut out useless words in prose.... The writing was livelier but still too verbose. He forced himself to shorter lines. Now the words were crammed in their tetrameters and he felt wide awake, roused, excited; the right words to fill the shot lines came, prompted by the measure.... He heard the horses' hoofs ringing on the surface of the poem as you hear the trotting of a horse in one of Chopin's Ballades.
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First published in Italy in 1957 amidst international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Here is a masterful chronicle of its outbreak and the consequences: army revolts, irrational killings, starvation, epidemics, Communist Party inquisitions. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago's love for the tender and beautiful Lara: pursued, found, and lost again, Lara is the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times. This edition (the only paperback edition now available) includes an introduction by the distinguished Oxford University scholar John Bayley. It reacquaints a new generation of readers with the controversy surrounding the original publication of Doctor Zhivago and places the book in the context of Soviet literary history and the fall of the Soviet Union. Book jacket.

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