“Dr Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak


Cover of "Doctor Zhivago"

Cover of Doctor Zhivago

This is a 520 page book followed by 25 poems on Russia and Lara by the lead protagonist Yurii Zhivago. I quite agree with Nabokov that Boris Pasternak is a good poet but a bad writer. The 520 pages is a saga with about 100 characters. It begins with the death of Yurii’s mother and ends with his death followed by an epilogue wherein like the ending of a bad novel his illegitimate daughter springs up.

The only good part about the book is that it is set in Russia during the World War and the following Russian Revolution. But the book is so verbose getting into trivial details but the character sketch even of the main protagonists is so dismal and superfluous. The so-called love of Lara and Zhivago that is supposed to be the essence of the book itself is so unconvincing. The author just described the events in great detail. The characters are far too many but none of them are portrayed properly with their beliefs and hence you cannot identify with any character.

I can’t help but compare the book with Anna Karenina wherein the beliefs and idiosyncrasies of each character was so well-defined that you could identify with each one of them.

Some nice quotes from the book:

“Art always serves beauty, and beauty is the joy of possessing form, and form is the key to organic life since no living thing can exist without it.”

I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and of little value. Life hasn’t revealed it’s beauty to them.”

“About dreams. It is usually taken for granted that you dream of something that has made a particularly strong impression on you during the day, but it seems to me it´s just the contrary. Often it´s something you paid no attention to at the time — a vague thought that you didn´t bother to think out to the end, words spoken without feeling and which passed unnoticed — these are the things that return at night, clothed in flesh and blood, and they become the subjects of dreams, as if to make up for having been ignored during waking hours.”

“Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long, grinding labor, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding rendered speechless by emotion!”

“Everything established, settled, everything to do with home and order and the common ground, has crumbled into dust and has been swept away in the general upheaval and reorganization of the whole of society. The whole human way of life has been destroyed and ruined. All that’s left is the bare, shivering human soul, stripped to the last shred, the naked force of the human psyche for which nothing has changed because it was always cold and shivering and reaching out to its nearest neighbor, as cold and lonely as itself.”

“Art had two constant,  unending preoccupations: it is always meditating upon death and always thereby creating life.”

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A dreamer. An intellectual, spoiled by the world of literature trying to find sanity through traveling and expression through Visual Art and writing! Hope you like my expressions on this blog!!

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7 comments on ““Dr Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak
  1. joydeep22 says:

    i like the book so much….but i guess what you are saying is right….did you see the movie?…..

    • Richa Kedia says:

      No I havent seen the movie. For me if the book is too verbose and focuses on unnecessary details, the good parts of the book also lose their significance. Thus overall experience of reading this book was bad although I did like the quotes above and the description of the whole era in which it has been written and I guess I expect more from Russian literature.

  2. Russian novelists (haha) are in a class by themselves, sui generis Mother Russia. Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Solzenitzen etc. The burden of the Russian soul, certainly distinctive and somewhat inscrutable to westerners. Thanks for the post

    • Richa Kedia says:

      Ya I usually love Russian literature although with respect to Russia I’m an easterner (as India lies towards the east) but somehow overall I don’t like this novel.

  3. Mike Boulton says:

    The problem, i think, is that the book was written in verse. The metre of the verse varied to convey the changing mood of the story.
    Dr. Zhvago is better as a film because the background d music serves the same function as the metre in the original written work.

    • Its very rare that the movie turns out to be better than the book but yes perhaps you are right about the music setting the tome! I will try and watch the movie if I get a chance!!

      • Mike Boulton says:

        I hope you do enjoy it. It is one of my favourite films. It is the only film that is better than the book at least in the English translation. The only one that comes close is The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. This was filmed for T.V. so there was more time for the number of characters and for the plot to be developed.

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