Jennifer's Reviews > Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
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's review
Aug 22, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2015-books, in-translation, owned
Read from January 05 to 09, 2015 — I own a copy

a funny thing happened on the way to reading this book - i remembered pasternak's niece had written a review of the new translation by pevear and volokhonsky, so i looked it up (linked below). i didn't read the whole thing until after i finished the novel, but i read enough to know she is not a fan. which was a total bummer. i have come to love the work P&V do translating the russian classics. but i am at a huge disadvantage because i don't speak russian, all i know is that when i have read their translations, i have come away feeling as though the integrity of the original has been maintained and that the voices of the authors come through.

well, it turns out i own two copies of doctor zhivago, this hardcover translation by P&V, along with an e-pub edition of the max hayward and manya harari edition ann pasternak slater notes and compares in her review. so i decided to read from each book. guess what? pevear and volokhonsky totally won!


In those first day, people like the soldier Pamphil Palykh, who, without any agitation, had a fierce, brutal hatred of the intelligentsia, the gentry, and the officers, seemed a rare find to the rapturous left-wing intelligentsia and were greatly valued

In those early days, men like Pamphil Palykh, who needed encouragement to hate intellectuals, officer and gentry with a savage haters, were regarded by enthusiastic left-wing intellectuals as a rare find and greatly valued

pasternak slater complains, in her review, that much of her uncle's force was lost in the P&V translation -- but i did not feel this to be the case at all. as i was reading, i felt the strength of the work, its urgency. at times, it was almost too chaotic but that must be purposeful and a representation of what it was like for people living through this time in history. so i now feel that pasternak slater is just too close to the work to have an unbiased opinion.

so now that my translation ramble is out of the way... what did i think of the novel?

i feel like i just read the lovechild of tolstoy and dostoevsky. pasternak has moments of beautiful prose and observations (like tolstoy), and then these more frantic, chaotic turns (like dostoevsky). but i found myself wondering about (sometimes distracted by) the political nature of the novel, and whether pasternak intended it to serve a higher purpose? yet, in reading the introduction to the P&V translation (written by richard peaver), it is noted ... he was the first to oppose the Soviet regime and its ideology so openly and so effectively. And yet Pasternak was not at all a political man; the public realm and the conflict of ideologies did not interest him." pevear does go on to say that the book speaks in the name of something else altogether, but that 'something else' was a subject of confusion for readers and critics when the book was first released in the west.

overall i feel this is a pretty important book in the literary canon. but now that i have finally read it, i wonder how many people have come to it expecting a great love story (thanks to julie christie/omar sharif) and then wondered 'what the heck?' i guess there's love in it? maybe more like crazy passions? or 'if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with'. but zhivago is not a romantic hero to be held up as the epitome of a leading man. he's a greatly flawed dude when it comes to the ladies. or being a parent.

i had some issues with the coincidences that kept cropping up. i mean -- russia is, you know, a damn huge place. each time character's would unexpectedly cross paths with one another, i did have to roll my eyes a little bit. in the introduction, pevear includes an excerpt from a letter pasternak wrote to a teacher in england: "The frequent coincidences in the plot are (in this case) not the secret, trick expedients of the novelist. They are the traits to characterize that somewhat willful, free, fanciful flow of reality." that didn't make me feel better. it was totally a trick, borichka! heh.

i never know how to review classic works. so i am sorry this is not very coherent and kind of rambly. but these are the strange thoughts i had while reading the book. (it should also be noted that i read this in january, in toronto, during an extreme cold alert, while dealing with pneumonia and crazy fevers. which, you know, makes total sense and, i think, added to my reading experience. it was like i was right there suffering the typhus on the taiga. vashe zdorovie!

/feverish rambling

guardian review: boris pasternak's niece, a literary scholar and translator, reviewed the newest translation by P&V, for the guardian. she (ann pasternak slater) was not so amused.:

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Reading Progress

02/11/2012 page 31
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Comments (showing 1-9)

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Cindy I just wanted to let you know that I quite liked Dr. Zhivago. I hope the people who didn't like it won't keep you away. :)

Jennifer Cindy wrote: "I just wanted to let you know that I quite liked Dr. Zhivago. I hope the people who didn't like it won't keep you away. :)"

Aww, thanks, Cindy! I am really looking forward to it and those poopy-heads won't dissuade me. :)

Jennifer Petra, El and Heather really like this one too - so, along with you, that is awesome company to have!! I don' t think it gets better than that, really.

Cindy Haha, well you still might not like it, and that's okay. But it is so worth reading. It did take me a bit to really get immersed in the story, but when I did, it was fabulous. IMHO, it's a book that has to match your mood for it to sing. Probably more that most other books I've read.

Jennifer Mmm...I tend to really pay attention to my mood(s) when it's selecting my next read time. That's why I got sort of stuck in December. Nothing was sitting right. Right now, I have a small bit of one book to finish, then I want to finish KL. I am think Feb 1st for Dr. Z. February seems a god month for this story and my general/mild SAD! ;)

Cindy Yeah, I could see this going down well in Feb! I did the total opposite and read it on a beach in Santa Cruz. It might be an interesting contrast to KL-- two countries very used to snow and long winters.

Jennifer Mmm...Santa Cruz!
That's a really good point, Cindy - about KL and Dr. Z!

Petra Can't wait to hear your thoughts, Jennifer. Like Cindy, I found the beginning slow but then I figured out what Pasternak was saying and the entire story just opened up. It's a marvelous piece of work.

Jennifer That is good to hear, Petra!! (The 'marvellous piece of work bit, not the slow start bit.) :)

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