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Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

>> Saturday, January 19, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 1958 (English translation)
Pages: 519
Challenges: Russian Reading #1, Decades 08 #1 (1950’s), Chunkster Challenge 2008 #2, A-Z Reading #4 (P Author)

This is one of those books that I’ve thought about reading for years, but never picked up. I’ve never seen the Omar Sharif / Julie Christie movie and although I have a recent TV miniseries version on tape, I’ve delayed watching it till I read the book. After all, we all know the book is always better. When I first learned about the Russian Reading Challenge, this is the first book I put on my list.

Although not as long as I’d always thought it was, it was still a big sweeping saga. Typical of a big Russian novel, there are almost as many characters as pages and most of them are referred to by several names and nicknames throughout the book. I read the first 50 or so pages twice just to make sure I was clear on who was who and the relationships up to that point. It got easier, but is never a quick reading story.

It’s the perfect time of year to read this – the cold weather outside just fits the atmosphere throughout the book. The writing is wonderful – even in translation the images and descriptions are vivid and wonderfully told. The contrast between the scenes that are described in detail to the quick glossing over major events and time periods makes it seem like more of a series of separate events than one linear story. The way Zhivago, Lara and the other main characters meet, separate, meet again; only to be separated once more gives a sense of them being caught up in larger events and circumstances beyond their control.

The story begins before the broad societal and governmental transformations and turmoil that World War I, The Russian Revolution and Civil War brought to all the citizens of Russia. No class was spared hardship and loss. The personal and philosophical impact is so wonderfully depicted.

This book has it all – love, loss, war, emotional and political upheaval, wonderful writing, a complex story and one well worth reading.


16 comments:

3M 1/19/2008 6:20 PM  

Glad you liked this! I'm reading this one this year as well.

Wendy 1/19/2008 7:30 PM  

Oh, so glad you enjoyed this one! As you know, I read it at the end lf 2007 and really, really liked it :) It is big and sweeping - your review was perfect :)

Charley 1/20/2008 4:44 AM  

Like you, I've thought about reading this book for years, but just can't seem to bring myself to actually do it. Thanks to your review, though, I might just give it a try. It's snowing out, so maybe today is the right day to go for it.

SuziQoregon 1/20/2008 9:09 AM  

3M: it's a book that takes some focused time - definitely not a quick read, but well worth it. Looking forward to hearing what you think.

Wendy: What a nice comment - I always feel like my blog posts about books are so inadequate to reviews on the level that you write. I'm not a 'writer' so I just try to say what I feel and let that be adequate.

Charley: it's definitely a book that is MEANT to be read in the wintertime - enjoy!

Booklogged 1/20/2008 3:54 PM  

I watched the movie when I was a teenager and didn't understand it. Maybe it's time to consider reading it. Wonder if old age will help me understand it.

SuziQoregon 1/20/2008 4:17 PM  

I haven't seen the movie, but from what I understand the focus is more on Zhivago and Lara. The book is so much more.

Teddy Rose 1/20/2008 7:40 PM  

I've also been thinking about reading this one for years. I'm glad you liked it.

I saw the movie when I was a child and remeber loving it.

Teddy
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
http://teddyrose.blogspot.com/

PS: I put a link for your blog on my blog.

alisonwonderland 1/20/2008 9:01 PM  

i've been intimidated by this one, but maybe i ought to give it a try. i'm adding to my to-read list on goodreads ...

SuziQoregon 1/21/2008 7:23 PM  

Teddy Rose: thanks - I need to update my links list and add yours. I'm subscribed on google reader, but haven't redone my links list for a while - thanks for the reminder that I need to do that.

Alison: It's a book that you need to have time to focus on - not a quick and easy read, but definitely worth the effort.

Heather,  1/22/2008 9:18 AM  

Great review! If I have time I think I'll add this one to my Russian Reading list!

Chain Reader 1/22/2008 3:56 PM  

I read this about 20 years ago, and loved it, but since I was in high school, I think a lot of it went over my head! I would like to reread it someday!

Jeane 1/23/2008 7:35 AM  

I tend to get confused in Russian novels by the proliferation of names, too. I really appreciated your review of this book, I think I need to read it myself.

SuziQoregon 1/23/2008 7:35 PM  

Heather: It's not NEARLY as long as W&P ;-) my copy was 519 pages.

Chain Reader: I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much at a such a young age. The love story parts yes, but not so much the political, societal, emotional, and philosophical upheavals the country and citizens went through.

Jeane: Once I figured out all the names for the main characters it helped a lot. That took time and some re-reading at the beginning.

Framed 1/26/2008 8:25 AM  

I didn't love W&P or Karenina and hated The Brothers Karamazov, so I had decided Russian literature wasn't for me. But I will keep Dr. Zhivago in mind in case my resolve softens. You really do make it sound good.

SuziQoregon 1/26/2008 3:25 PM  

Framed: It's not an easy read, but I'm really glad I did.

spaceman 12/26/2008 1:09 AM  

I vaguely remember when Pasternak was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1959 and was forced to turn it down by the Soviets. In the '60's my best friend in high school raved about Pasternak's book "Dr. Zhivago" and urged me to read it but I never got around to it until now. This is very strange in retrospect, because I was a huge fan of David Lean's 1965 movie version of "Dr. Zhivago", so much so in fact that I had a poster of Julie Christie's character, Lara, on my dorm room wall as a college freshman.
I finished reading the book yesterday and was very moved. Like you, I found the writing superb, especially the descriptions of the nature scenes. I also wish that I knew the Russian language because I'm sure much was lost in the English translation of Yurii's poems at the end of the novel.
Did you pick up the symbolism in "Dr. Zhivago"? Pasternak's poetry was known for its symbolism so one can expect the same in his prose. I believe Tonia represents Czarist Russia, Lara the revolutionary ideal of (socialist) Russia, Komarovsky the political classes, Strelnikov the revolutionary army, and Yuri the doctor who must keep the patient (Lara/Russia) alive and safe while the soldiers and politicians are cutting out the tumors and bringing forth a new form of government. Of course, really great art like "Dr. Zhivago" transcends such rigid stereotypes, but it is fun (and illuminating?) to speculate on the symbolism.
"War and Peace" is still my favorite Russian novel, but I think "Dr. Zhivago" is right up there with "Anna Karenina" and "The Brothers Karamazov". (I've only read two books by Solzhenitsyn, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and "The Gulag Archipelago", but "Dr. Zhivago" is clearly better than both in my opinion.)
Now that you have read the book, I would urge you to watch David Lean's movie version of "Dr. Zhivago". The cinematography is breathtaking and the acting is excellent, especially Rod Steiger as Komarovsky. As you would expect of Hollywood, the love story dominates, but Julie Christie and Omar Sharif pull that off surprisingly well. I do want to warn you that Antipov/Strelnikov in the movie version is a poor caricature of Pasternak's richer character in the book.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. I read and respond them here although not always right away. If you would prefer an email response let me know.

I do moderate comments on posts older than 14 days in order to control spam. I will approve your legitimate comments as soon as I can.

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