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Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago (original 1957; edition 1997)

by Boris Pasternak

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7,23297493 (3.89)1 / 505
Title:Doctor Zhivago
Authors:Boris Pasternak
Info:Pantheon (1997), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, Epic, Russian Literature, Classics, Historical Fiction, Love/Romance, Political, Russia, Russian Revolution, War, Nobel Prize, Made into Movie

Work details

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1957)

  1. 30
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    BeeQuiet: This is one of my favourite books; it explores themes of modernity, providing a fresh insight moving away from the idea that modernity is about fixed repeated sequences. It works through various texts from Goethe, Marx and Baudelaire, through to works created in St Petersburg by authors living in a time when modernity seemed to be passing them by in another world. This is why I would suggest it to anyone fascinated by Russian literature as it gives a brilliant new perspective on the reasons behind their writing.… (more)
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English (89)  Yiddish (2)  French (2)  Hebrew (2)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (97)
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Yuri Zhivago is sensitive and poetic nearly to the point of mysticism. In medical school, one of his professors reminds him that bacteria may be beautiful under the microscope, but they do ugly things to people.

Zhivago's idealism and principles stand in contrast to the brutality and horror of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent Russian Civil War. A major theme of the novel is how mysticism and idealism are destroyed by both the Bolsheviks and the White Army alike, as both sides commit horrible atrocities. Yuri witnesses dismemberment and other horrors suffered by the innocent civilian population during the turmoil. Even the love of his life, Lara, is taken from him.

He ponders on how war can turn the whole world senseless, and make an otherwise reasonable group of people destroy each other with no regard for life. His journey through Russia has an epic, dreamlike, almost surreal feeling because of his traveling through a world which is in such striking contrast to himself, relatively uncorrupted by the violence, and to his desire to find a place away from it all, which drives him across the Arctic Siberia of Russia, and eventually back to Moscow. Pasternak gives subtle criticism of Soviet ideology: he disagrees with the idea of "building a new man," which, he suggests, is against nature.

Lara's life is also dealt with in considerable detail. Lara, whose full name is Larissa Feodorovna Guishar (later Antipova), is the daughter of a bourgeois mother. She becomes involved in an affair with Viktor Komarovsky, a powerful lawyer with political connections, who both repulses and attracts her. Lara is engaged to Pavel "Pasha" Antipov, an idealistic young student who becomes involved in Bolshevism through his father. To gain independence from Komarovsky, Lara spends three years working as a live-in nanny for a wealthy family (the Kologrivovs). Upon returning her brother begs her to get 700 rubles from Komarovsky to repay money that he has gambled away. Lara gets the money for her brother from her generous employer, Kologrivov. However, when her pupil Lipa graduates, she feels like she is on charity instead of working for her keep in the Kologrivov household. She decides that Komarovsky "owes her" and she will get money from him with which she will become independent. She goes to a party to demand the money from Komarovsky. He is playing cards all evening and she does not get his attention. She finally walks in and attempts to shoot him but misses. [1]

Zhivago briefly encounters Lara while assisting his mentor who has been called by Komarovsky to the scene of the attempted suicide of Lara's mother in response to Lara's and Komarovsky's scandalous relationship. Zhivago also sees Lara at the Christmas party where she tries to shoot Komarovsky. Lara and Zhivago truly meet following a roadside encounter between First World War troop columns, one group being miserable retreating Russian Army deserting veterans and the other group are new recruits bound for the hopeless conditions at the Front. Lara has been serving as nurse while searching for her assumed-dead husband Antipov. The two fall in love as they serve together in a makeshift field hospital. They do not consummate their relationship until much later, meeting in the town of Yuriatin after the war.

Pasha Antipov and Komarovsky continue to play important roles in the story. Pasha is assumed killed in World War I, but is actually captured by the Germans and escapes. Pasha Antipov joins the Bolsheviks and becomes Strelnikov (the shooter), a fearsome Red Army general who becomes infamous for executing White prisoners (hence his nickname). However, he is never a true Bolshevik and yearns for the fighting to be over so he can return to Lara. (The film version would change his character significantly, making him a hard-line Bolshevik.)

Another major character is Liberius, commander of the "Forest Brotherhood", the Red Partisan band which conscripts Yuri into service. Liberius is depicted as loud-mouthed and vain, a dedicated and heroic revolutionary, who bores Yuri with his continuous lectures on the justice of their cause and the inevitability of their victory. He is also addicted to cocaine.

Komarovsky reappears towards the end of the story. He has gained some influence in the Bolshevik government and been appointed head of the Far Eastern Republic, a Bolshevik puppet state in Siberia. He offers Zhivago and Lara transit out of Russia. They initially refuse, but by lying about Pasha Antipov's death Komarovsky privately persuades Zhivago that it is in Lara's best interests to leave; Zhivago convinces Lara to go with Komarovsky, telling her (falsely) that he will follow her shortly.

Meanwhile, Antipov/Strelnikov falls from grace, loses his position in the Red Army, and returns to Varykino, near Yuriatin, where he hopes to find Lara. She, however, has just left with Komarovsky. After having a lengthy conversation with Zhivago, Pasha Antipov commits suicide and is found the next morning by Zhivago. (In the movie Komarovsky tells Zhivago that he was captured 5 miles outside of Yuriatin and on the way to his execution he grabbed a pistol from a guard and killed himself.) Zhivago's life and health go downhill from this point; he lives with another woman and has two children with her, plans numerous writing projects but does not finish them, and is increasingly absent-minded, erratic, and unwell. Lara eventually returns to Russia on the day of Zhivago's funeral. She gets Yevgraf, his half brother, to try to find her daughter but then disappears.

During World War II Zhivago's old friends Nika Dudorov and Misha Gordon meet up. One of their discussions revolves around a local laundress named Tonya, a bezprizornaya or parentless child, one of many left by the Civil War, and her resemblance to Zhivago. Much later they meet over the first edition of Zhivago's poems. It's unclear in the book why they haven't been published before or why they have been published now.

Other major characters include Tonya Gromeko, Zhivago's wife, and her parents Alexander and Anna, with whom Zhivago lived after he lost his parents as a child. Yevgraf (Evgraf) Zhivago, Yuri's younger illegitimate half-brother (son of his father and a Mongolian princess), is a mysterious figure who gains power and influence with the Bolsheviks and helps his brother evade arrest throughout the course of the story.

The book is packed full of odd coincidences; characters disappear and reappear seemingly at random, encountering each other in the most unlikely places.

Pasternak's description of the singer Kubarikha in the chapter "Iced Rowanberries" is almost identical to the description of the gypsy singer Nadezhda Plevitskaya (1884–1940) by Sofia Satina (sister-in-law and cousin of Sergei Rachmaninoff). Since Rachmaninoff was a friend of the Pasternak family, and Plevitskaya a friend of Rachmaninoff, Plevitskaya was probably Pasternak's "mind image" when he wrote the chapter; something which also shows how Pasternak had roots in music.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
One of the most painfully boring books I ever had to read. Yes I know its a classic and I am probably not intelligent enough to understand it, but I won't lie. I was bored, often confused on who they were talking about and I didn't really like any of the characters. I didn't understand the fascination with Laura, and quite frankly thought Tonya was far more intriguing. Even watched the movie and this is one case in which I enjoyed the movie more than the book. That being said, I didn't love the movie either. I actually wanted to create a Staff UnPick sticker for this one. Positive note though as we read this for book club, we had a fabulous Russian dinner and I learned to appreciate good vodka. I made a fabulous Stalin's Georgian Lamb Stew. The recipe came from a book by Jason Matthews called Palace of Treason. ( )
  mountie9 | Feb 16, 2016 |
Interesting story but way less love story than expected. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Feb 6, 2016 |
  vecchiopoggi | Jan 24, 2016 |
This has some beautiful passages but overall I had a hard time staying interested in the story. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (214 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
Prins, AaiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scheepmaker, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zveteremich, PietroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book. DO NOT combine with film.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:44 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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

(summary from another edition)

» see all 16 descriptions

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