Dr Zhivago

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Dr Zhivago

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1booksbooks11
Out 1, 2006, 7:44am

I'm really trying to appreciate this book and I need some help! God knows I can see already I'll have to reread it to get all the sub plots together in my mind, though the truth seems to be they don't really go together at all.
Can anyone steer me in the direction of a critical review that would shed some light on it's brilliance?

2avaland
Nov 14, 2006, 2:58pm

While not really a critical review, you could start with the wikipedia entry. It's a good general overview.

NPR's Weekend Edition did a spot on Pasternak and Dr. Zhivago recently:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6437632

I have a lot of resources on the book and Pasternak but nothing I can make readily available, if you know what I mean. The original 1958 NY Times book review of the novel might be worth a look, if you can find it on the web.

Although I have not read the book in the last 15 or so years, it bears reading multiple times...

3avanhilten
Nov 12, 2007, 12:30am

Great question with no easy answer. I studied Doctor Zhivago in a Russian lit class in university. I remember my prof reviewing all the themes but unfortunately I can't remember all that he said. The one that I do remember him mentioning is the interconnectedness of life. Yuri, Lara and Tonya are separated several times yet somehow their actions always influence each other and they end up connecting again. The same applies to other characters. For example, when Yuri has his heart attack his teacher from years before (I believe - it's been some time since I last read it) is passing by but doesn't see him. In a nutshell, no matter how and to what extent people are separated they continue to be connected to each other. There are quite a few themes in Dr. Zhivago. I'd have to read it again, though, to remember them. I'd love to hear what themes anyone else found, because I found that they were not particularly obvious while reading Zhivago. It takes some concentration to see them.

4lizatoad
Mar 3, 2008, 10:49am

I recently read Dr. Zhivago and was pretty disapointed, i really did expect a lot more after everything i've heard about it.... The truth is, Pasternak was really more of a poet -- hence (i'm guessing) the lyrical waxing on the trees, the leaves, on and on, etc. I read this novel with my book club and everyone had a similar response. Also, all the different versions of the same name that they have in Russian made it difficult for the American readers to follow...

5avaland
Jun 11, 2008, 10:26am

Here's a short bit on Doctor Zhivago from an NPR spot:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91205874

I love Pasternak's poetry too; although I wonder if it's not due for some new translation.

6littlebookworm
Jun 11, 2008, 10:52am

I also recently read it and I do think I would have benefited from a literature class connected with it. It's very complex and I can certainly see the theme of interconnectedness of lives, but it's a challenge to pick out these themes myself, even as a literature student. To be honest, I do think it would benefit from a new translation, and I was thinking that as I read it. I haven't heard of any in the works, though.

7Caroline_McElwee
Editado: Jun 29, 2011, 11:59am

I have just read Dr Zhivago and I too was disappointed in it. I felt that Zhivago himself was too much of a cypher for my tastes, though did like the poetry at the end. I know I will read this novel again in the future, bur probably some time after reading some more Russian history. For me Tolstoy manages to maintain character and history, where as Pasternak seems to have offered up character in favour of history. The only reason for this character to be so thinly drawn I felt was the constant need within his world at that time to adapt and shift-shape in order to survive.

8rebeccanyc
Jun 29, 2011, 12:20pm

I read Doctor Zhivago for the first time earlier this year and thought it was an amazing book. Caroline, I don't believe Pasternak's goal was to write a book about history; instead I believe he was writing about how individuals respond to historical forces. Here is the review I posted at that time.

Doctor Zhivago is a wonderful, complex, and moving novel, but not at all what I imagined from my impressions of the movie, which I've only seen in parts and never in full. I more or less expected a traditional epic love story set against war-torn Russia, but I found instead a very modern portrait of a world falling apart and people struggling to survive -- both in general and in Russia in particular, from just before the 1905 revolution through the first world war, the two 1917 revolutions, the civil war, Stalin's early years and, in the epilogue, up to the turning point of the second world war. Through not only the protagonist and his circle, but also secondary and even incidental characters, Pasternak portrays the chaos, randomness, coincidence, hypocrisy, hunger, opportunism, and suffering of these times, with occasional glimpses of love, art, honor, nobility, and human decency.

The edition I read is the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky; in his informative introduction, Pevear notes that Pasternak was trying, as Tolstoy had, to capture the feeling of life as it is lived, and I believe he does so, with the episodic nature of the novel, the multitude of characters, the digressions from the "plot" and the protagonists, and the broad encompassing vision of the soul-destroying effects of war, power, and ideology.

Many themes and images run through the novel, but I was most struck by three. First, and again like Tolstoy and many other Russian writers I've read, Pasternak has a beautiful feeling for nature, from the red berries of the rowan tree to the way snow falls, the behavior of wolves, and a horse neighing because she senses another horse is nearby. The vast, harsh, and stunning expanse of Russia is another character in this novel. Second, trains play a big role, and are often not running: several characters trek huge distances through barren or forested land and one of the most striking images in the book is of dozens of trains buried under the snow, a reality nobody is supposed to acknowledge. Third, there is a religious theme, with frequent references to aspects of Russian Orthodox services and prayers (which I would not have recognized without the helpful end notes), a continuing and cyclical presence throughout the devastation of historical "progress." Along with this, several of the characters who are believed to be dead subsequently reappear, sometimes the same, sometimes dramatically changed.

I have written at length, but I feel I've only scratched the surface of Doctor Zhivago, without any discussion of the characters or the story. It is an amazingly rich and provocative experience.

9SpoonFed
Jun 29, 2011, 4:06pm

Dr Zhivago was the first book that made me realise that translations do matter. I read a friend's borrowed copy at 18 or 19, by which point in my life I had read a reasonable amount of French and Russian literature in translation and enjoyed all of it. I loved Dr Zhivago, and when I returned home a few months later I bought the first second-hand copy I could find. This time, I couldn't make it even a quarter of the way through because I found the prose turgid in the extreme and not at all the passionate and consuming story I remembered!

Unfortunately, I can't remember the names of the two translators involved (it was only after that experience that I started paying attention to translators' names!) but if you're really struggling you might try finding a different translation.

10LisaStens
Jun 30, 2011, 2:01pm

It was the first book I had read that took place during the Revolution/Civil War period and I was not at all familiar with the political goings on past the Whites vs. the Reds. I remember being completely confused by the Greens and the Blacks and keeping track of the various socialist groups and who belonged where. I enjoyed the book but a good portion of my mental energy was consumed with keeping track of those political groups, there was little left to delve into themes. I have since read it a second time and now that I am more familiar with the period and all that was going on during that time, I was able to sit back and just enjoy the story and the characters. I wouldn't say that you need to have that historical background to enjoy it but it does help.

11Tuirgin
Jun 30, 2011, 11:38pm

I'm currently rereading Zhivago. I first read it in the Hayward/Harari translation, and bought it the day it was released in the new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation—I'm a fan of their translations of Russian literature.

Pevear's introduction addresses some of the difficulties that Western readers (and even Russian readers) had when the book first came out. This is a very different sort of book from the classic 19th century Russian novels novels. Pasternak was a poet, and I think that shows to great effect in this novel. It isn't just the attention to natural details, but the whole logic and approach of the work. This isn't a book where plot advancements or character developments are in the forefront. Frankly, I read this book with much the same mentality as when I approach a poem, paying close attention to images, descriptions, patterns, rhythms.

I remember Gogol insisting that his Dead Souls was a poem rather than novel, but it's Zhivago that strikes me as such.

12aluvalibri
Jul 1, 2011, 11:25am

I am reading the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation as well, which, in my opinion, is marvelous, and I think it manages to convey the rhythm of such a poetic prose.

13Tuirgin
Jul 1, 2011, 10:57pm

I agree. The Haywood/Harari translation anglicizes and Westernizes for the sake of fluidity and familiar equivalency. It's not a bad translation, but it's jolting to hear Roman Catholic jargon describing elements of Russian Orthodoxy, for example. And the distinctive speech patterns are smoothed away. P/V drm to excel at capturing unique diction and feel.

14ukh
Editado: Nov 17, 2011, 3:12pm

I've made it a few chapters into Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago and so far I'm amazed. The storytelling I love about Leo Tolstoy and the humanity of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in one delicious mix, I devour each section like a piece of chocolate. But like a huge chocolate bar, I find it difficult to take in too much at a time without getting overwhelmed. Please, please make the rest of the book just as good, it's going to be a long, long read!

15Tuirgin
Nov 17, 2011, 3:57pm

Zhivago is one of my favorite books. I've been re-reading it slowly for most of the year. It's really not that long of a book, but out does seem to frustrate the expectations of some readers. Taken as a sort of prose poem written by a poet of life, itself, and I think you will not be disappointed.

16avaland
Dez 14, 2011, 9:56pm

Love the comments on Zhivago. Yum. Since my post back in '06 above, I've spent some time this year comparing translations of some of Pasternak's poetry, including a few of the Zhivago poems. It's amazing what a difference word choice or placement can make!

17languagehat
Maio 22, 2018, 12:16pm

I finally read this book and didn't like it at all; my extended review is here:
http://languagehat.com/doctor-zhivago/

(I hope this group isn't fading into extinction -- I love having exchanges about Russian literature!)

18sparemethecensor
Maio 22, 2018, 2:05pm

>17 languagehat: I've never read Dr. Zhivago, partially due to Nabokov's famously harsh critique (and because there are only so many hours in the day to get through all I want to read). I really enjoyed your review's pros and cons. It certainly does seem melodramatic!

One of the things I love about Russian literature is the way that people experience and interpret pivotal historical events -- a prime example being Turgenev's works especially Fathers and Sons -- so that element of Pasternak does entice me...

19morwen04
Maio 23, 2018, 4:38pm

>17 languagehat: I'm so happy to have someone else (not named Nabokov as I never quite believe, and to be honest I'm not sure exactly why, probably the opinion of a Russian literature teacher in undergrad, it's not for personal reasons when Nabokov doesn't like something some else has written XD) didn't like Dr Zhivago. It seems to be one of those books everyone raves about that I never understood why they did.

Fitting to me that >18 sparemethecensor: mentions Turgenev as I've never actually been the biggest fan of his either.

20kaggsy
Jun 12, 2018, 12:23pm

Well, I'm afraid to say that I enjoyed Dr. Zhivago (*runs and hides*). I found it more of a novel of ideas than anything else and I actually wrote about it quite passionately:

https://kaggsysbookishramblings.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-book-is-always-bett...

(*waits for the backlash*)

21languagehat
Jun 20, 2018, 10:08am

No need to run and hide -- most people seem to love it, why shouldn't you? I enjoyed your review (and your slam against P&V!).

By the way, let me warn you against the Russian TV movie, which I thought had to be better than the famous movie version, being Russian and all. I've watched the first two episodes so far, and it's terrible -- all sorts of made-up stuff, dumb humor that has nothing to do with the book, it's a disgrace to the memory of Pasternak.

22john257hopper
Jun 24, 2018, 11:50am

I read it about 25 years ago, more than overdue for a re-read.

23kaggsy
Jun 27, 2018, 1:21am

>25 Thank you! It only took me over 40 years from buying it to actually reading it but I wasn’t disappointed. And thanks for the warning about the Russian TV movie - I’ll avoid it.

Always happy to have a pop at P/V.... 😉

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