Connor Smith's Reviews > Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
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Oct 21, 2011

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bookshelves: russian-authors, library2go
Read from October 21 to 23, 2011

This is a weird novel in that it starts out like any other 1800’s era Russian novel, but then World War I and the Russian civil war breaks out midway through and changes everything. Recently, I had read Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and both those novels impressed upon me the horrors of living in a totalitarian society. That makes this novel all the more interesting because it somewhat shows how such a totalitarian society might emerge.

But now for the rating. It's a long tale of one man's life; surely its plot won't count against it. It deals with deep and powerful themes and events; no problems there. No, its real strike is that it's simply not engaging to read. Rarely, if ever, was I especially eager to get to the next part. I never quite got close to the novel's characters and I doubt I'll dwell on any of them. However, I'll at least end this on a semi-good note. The novel does feel like an epic, at least in the beginning. It introduces many main characters with only vague clues as to how they all fit together. That kept me reading for a bit, but eventually the mystery is revealed and all I had left in front of me were endless pages that needed to be read.

I wonder if this is the sort of novel that grows on you. Like, the first reading is a bit painful, but the second is rewarding. The last 30 or so pages consist of poems that Yuri wrote during the novel; I feel somewhat bad about leaving them unread. I can already feel the effects of a faint nostalgia coming on, entreating me to read the poems. But I think it's just that; nostalgia, relief that I'm done with the novel. Still, I am glad to move on from the novel and I won’t soon be looking back.
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