Rebecca's Reviews > Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
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's review
Aug 28, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: russian, adult-fiction

4.5 stars

Oh, Mother Russia! What has happened to your children? If suffering is the catalyst for good art, then their torment has been exquisite as expressed in some of the world's finest music and literature. The works of your composers and writers resonate in my soul: Prokoviev, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov; Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky... and now Pasternak.

"A Russian song is like water in a mill pond. It seems stopped up and unmoving. But in its depths it constantly flows through the sluice gates, and the calm of its surface is deceptive.
By all possible means, by repetitions, by parallelisms, it holds back the course of the gradually developing content. At a certain limit, it suddenly opens itself all at once and astounds us. Restraint itself, mastering itself, an anguished force expresses itself in this way. It is a mad attempt to stop time with words
(p. 325)."

And so it goes with Dr. Zhivago. It is more than just a tragic story of a man torn between his feelings for two women. It is repetition of relationships (those who are in the past return again in a meaningful, and interconnected, way) and parallelisms (Yuri Zhivago's storyline is a mirror to the tumult the Russian people are experiencing during the Revolution years). In fact, Yuri's relationships - his loyal affection to Tonya; his passionate love for Lara; and, finally, his indifferent attachment to Marina - seem to be loosely crafted symbols of the relationship between the government and the Russian people. They want to have that passionate relationship, but have resigned themselves with fatalistic compliance to a life of half-hearted living.

"And this expanse is Russia, his incomparable one, renowned far and wide, famous mother, martyr, stubborn, muddle-headed, whimsical, adored, with her eternally majestic and disastrous escapades, which can never be foreseen! Oh, how one always longs to say thank you to life itself, to existence itself, to say it right in their faces!
And that is what Lara is. It is impossible to talk to them, but she is their representative, their expression, the gift of hearing and speech, given to the voiceless principles of existence
(p. 351)."

Lara is the Russia Russians want - but will never have.

Additional favorite passages:

"Above all, where does the genius lie? If anyone were given the task of creating a new world, of beginning a new chronology, he would surely need to have a corresponding space cleared for him first. He would wait first of all for the old times to end, before he set about building the new, he would need a round number, a new paragraph, a blank page (p. 173)."

"Of all things Russian I now love most the Russian childlikeness of Pushkin and Chekhov, their shy unconcern with such resounding things as the ultimate goals of mankind and their own salvation. They, too, understood all these things, but such immodesties were far from them - not their business, not on their level! Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky prepared for death, were anxious, sought meaning, summed things up, but these two till the end were distracted by the current particulars of their artistic calling, and in their succession lived their lives inconspicuously, as one such particular, personal, of no concern to anyone, and now that particular has become common property and, like still unripe apples picked from the tree, is ripening in posterity, filling more and more with sweetness and meaning (p. 256)."

"Lara's left shoulder had been opened. As a key is put into the secret door of an iron safe built into a closet, her shoulder blade had been unlocked by the turn of the sword. In the depths of the revealed inner cavity, the secrets kept by her soul appeared. Strange towns she had visited, strange streets, strange houses, strange expanses drew out in ribbons, in unwinding skeins of ribbons, ribbons spilling out in bundles.
Oh, how he loved her! How beautiful she was! Just as he had always thought and dreamed, as he had needed!
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Reading Progress

August 28, 2008 – Shelved
May 7, 2009 – Shelved as: russian
July 7, 2009 – Shelved as: adult-fiction
November 4, 2013 – Started Reading
November 11, 2013 –
page 112
November 22, 2013 – Finished Reading

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