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Doctor Zhivago - Boris Paternak

From 1001 Books: 

Pasternak's epic story of the love affair between Lara and Yuri, set against the historical and geographical vastness of revolutionary Russia, was banned in the USSR from its first publication in Italy until 1988. While Pasternak was silenced by the Soviets, he won extravagant plaudits in the West, receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.

It is a bitter irony that this divergence between Soviet and Western responses to Doctor Zhivago has had such a profound influence on the way that the novel has been read. Pasternak has been caricatured by both the West and the East as a writer who prioritizes a romantic Western concept of individual freedom over the iron cruelties of the socialist state. In fact, rather than being in any simple sense counterrevolutionary, the book is a subtle examination of the ways in which revolutionary ideals can be compromised by the realities of political power. The relationship between Laura and Yuri, one of the most compelling in postwar fiction, grows out of a fascination with the possibilities of revolutionary justice and is closely interwoven with it. The novel is driven by the struggle to achieve a kind of perfect truth, in both personal and political terms, but its drama and pathos are found in the failure of this striving toward the ideal and in the extraordinary difficulty of remaining faithful to a personal, political, or poetic principle.

On of the most striking things about the novel is the Russian landscape itself, which emerges with a wonderful spaciousness and an extraordinary beauty. It is from its elegiac encounter with the vast landscape upon which this drama is played out that Doctor Zhivago produces an extraordinary sense of happiness and a sense of the boundlessness of historical and human possibility.

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  • Brian

    I saw this article today from NPR about how the CIA tried to use this book with the former Soviet Union.

    1 · April 7, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    My first book club; be gentle with me!!!

    December 16, 2013

    • Randy S

      We will --Welcome!!!

      1 · February 22, 2014

  • Mia B.

    This will be my first as well. Looking forward to it!

    January 13, 2014

  • Rick O.

    Favorite stanza from the poems:

    I have let all the members of my household go their ways;
    All those close to me have long since scattered.
    And everything-within the heart and throughout nature-
    Is filled with the loneliness of always.

    If, as has been mentioned, Pasternak was first a Poet, perhaps the novel should not be read as a rendering of historical events, but as a Poetical unveiling of historical processes.

    But that's just me. . .

    February 22, 2014

  • Troy F.

    If you have time for more of a backstory than the internet Cliff notes (Wikipedia), there is a 1981 film "Reds" based on the story of John Reed who died of typhus in 1919 while reporting on the Revolution. It has several interviews with people who were there.

    Also, the first chapter of Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands is Russian Famines set in 1933. It is available on-line at Amazon. The entire book is an amazing act of scholarship. Snyder read source documents in ten languages.

    February 17, 2014

  • Rick O.

    I'm signed up for the Poe meetup. I'm not sure if I'll go. I just finished Doctor Zhivago. I don't know if I want to read anything else. I don't want the feelings inside me to go away.

    February 4, 2014

  • Jon F.

    Good to have "Les Miserables" followed by "Dr. Zhivago"!

    Both Pasternak and Victor Hugo were primarily poets, although Hugo was a French Romantic and Pasternak was a post-Futurist? interested in conveying the essence of experience, which is what makes "Dr. Zhivago" so different to read. I'm finally in the Russian Civil Wars and finding the reading compelling and enjoyable. I think the book is more about the Russian Revolution(s) than about character and plot.

    I am so thankful to Wikipedia! To read these novels without a minimal understanding of the historical context undoubtedly makes the novel less comprehensible and potentially makes us simplistic aesthetes. We might as well use this reading list as a good reason to go over once again the French or Russian revolutions' causes, developments aftermaths, etc. It's all fascinating when there's a reason to know this history. Wikipedia is also invaluable for helping me understand Pasternak and his milieu.

    February 1, 2014

  • Randy S

    I began the book. For my translation, I find the prose simple yet beautiful -- a stripped down Tolstoy. But the book has moved me. I recall when I was very young, I was dragged to the movie. I recall being impressed by the beauty and the cold, barren vistas of Russia amidst a very bittersweet story. Now (as I am much older) I like the novel beginning: a train and a suicide -- perhaps the foreshadowing of an evolving tragedy.

    February 1, 2014

  • Randy S

    I'm looking forward to this one:)

    January 27, 2014

    • Rick O.

      Randy - have you started? - I'm interested in what you think of the Style. So far I am finding it kinda 'clunky' (the thief that turns up in 1.4 e.g.). But, interestingly, I don't care. I am convinced I will really like this so I know I will really like it.

      January 27, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      As I read the story seems to be weaving itself together nicely. He does possess the typical "Russian" i.e. Tolstoy prose and it makes the weaving take that much longer.

      January 27, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Do people try to read the same publication of the book?

    January 16, 2014

    • Bonnie

      Feel free to read whichever edition you can get your hands on. Sometimes the different translations or different introductions can add to the interesting conversation.

      January 17, 2014

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