A few books come out in a generation and has such impact that future generations cling to the truths on the pages. Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is one of those books. A book which tells a tragic story amidst war and great social shifts in power. Doctor Zhivago features World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War which brought the Russian people deeper and deeper into poverty. The tragic life of Yuri Zhivago is one example of a man whose circumstances were nothing he asked for or wanted. While he tried to overcome his circumstances, the power that be keep bring him down.
Boris Pasternak was born February 10, 1890 in Moscow. He began writing Doctor Zhivago in 1946 at the height of Stalin’s regime. When Stalin died suddenly in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the Community Party, denounced the crimes of Stalin and initiated The Thaw, a general easing of repression and ideological control. The Thaw would be brief. When Pasternak finished his book in 1955, he sent the manuscript to Novy Mir “New World,” the most liberal of Moscow’s literary magazines. He would eventually send the book to an Italian publisher after many in Russia refused to publish it. The book would be a success and the Russian government would ban the book from the country for many years. In 1958, Pasternak would win the Nobel Prize for Literature to which he had to refuse. Rumor was that he was forced to refuse by the Russian government under threat of his life. When the Soviet Union fell in 1988, his descendants would accept the prize on behalf. Boris Pasternak died May 10, 1960.
The story opens in 1901, a young Yuri Zhivago is bury his mother who has suddenly died. His father had abandoned them, Yuri is left to be raised by his uncle. The story shifts to introduce Lara, a young girl whose widowed mother moves to Moscow and opens a seamstress shop. She soon gains the attention of Viktor Komarousky, who takes advantage of the family’s dire straits. Fast forward to 1911, Lara is now a young woman who marries Pasha, a young man who wants to rescue her. Pasha then joins the army and soon goes missing and is feared dead. Yuri marries Tonya at the urging of her dying mother. Yuri is soon a military doctor where he encounters Lara, now serving as a nurse while trying to get information about her missing husband. Yuri’s and Lara’s timeline weave in and out as the country is thrown into turmoil after turmoil. Their love is brief and bound to end tragically as the country is at war with itself.
Doctor Zhivago is not just a historical novel about a love story amidst the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. It is a moving story about a harsh reality which was changing in front of Pasternik’s eyes. He wrote the events of his book as they were happening in his life. He portrays Russia’s three revolutions, civil war, the two world wars and the political terror which the Russian people faced on a daily basis. Through Yuri’s eyes, we can witness the events of modern Russian history. The brief moments of happiness surrounded by period of deep darkness. I can see how the government of the Soviet Union found this book to be explosive as the characters discuss the pitfalls of Marxism and the atrocities which were committed by both sides of the war. The tragedies of Doctor Zhivago are influenced by the transformation of Russia to the Soviet Union and the dehumanization of its people. The book is long and can be difficult to read but I enjoyed it. It is getting an eyewitness account by someone who was there and saw these events unfold. The courage it took Boris Pasternak to write his story, knowing it could end his life. Doctor Zhivago should be on every one's must read list.