Doctor Zhivago

This book having been banned in the author’s homeland for decades was apparently brought to widespread publication with the aid of

It was Merril who alerted me to the scheme, concerning which this article puts the work in perspective.

The immediate popularity of this courageous novel on its 1958 publication by the Italian publisher, Feltrinelli is suggested by the fact that my copy is the 8th impression during the months of September to November of that same year produce by Collins and Harvill Press. I am not sure how long my second-hand book, bearing the pencilled price of £1 has languished on my bookshelves while waiting for my fingers to turn the pages.

Pasternak demonstrates how the destructive turmoils of the formative decades of the Communist regime affected the lives of humanity; the sacrifice of community to the all-powerful state; how the individual has been lost to the ideology; and yet the inevitable confused chaos until the rise of rule by fear. His observations on the power of the lie to influence political over personal beliefs have, to this day, never left these lands, as we see in the continued warfare devastating them today.

The eponymous main protagonist in the story, in his thoughts, in his conversations, in his diary extracts, and in his posthumously published poetry carries the voice of Pasternak’s philosophy of life, of nature, and of history. Despite how well known the tale is, particularly from its screen interpretations, I will try to continue my practice of revealing as little detail as possible.

The ultimate tragedy of this period seems to be the frequent separation of lovers and family members caused by the enforced geographical upheavals. Just as we still see today, families, sometimes never to be reunited, are dispersed across the globe, and freedom is an elusive dream. Parted protagonists spend decades trying to find each other, often to no avail or too late.

This is a lengthy novel, yet the prose is so fast-paced as to facilitate easy reading. The author’s descriptive passages of events, locations, and personalities are packed with simile, and to some extent metaphor, adding a lively richness. He handles conversation and the complexity of relationships with considerable insight. Some of his pastoral passages are delightful. He evokes the settings with simple sentences suggesting surroundings, like hens crossing the ground; and uses the weather to indicate mood or conditions. Sunlight can be as telling as Siberia’s snow and bitter cold.

When humanity is not sacrificed to blind adherence to policies there are struggles over guilt, particularly in extramarital liaisons.

Although I know no Russian it seems to me that the translators, Max Hayward and Manya Harari have produced a worthy version, especially as they acknowledge their limitations in translating Zhivago’s poems which form the last sections of the book.

I spent much of the day finishing my reading of the book and drafting this post.

This evening we dined at The Red Lion in Boldre, where Jackie enjoyed her meaty burger meal with extra onion rings, and Peroni; and I did the same with my beer battered haddock, chips and peas, with a Chilean Merlot.