Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak
I really loved this book. I picked it up at the library because I fell for the gorgeous cover (isn't that a beautiful cover??) and also it was on my list anyway, and then I started reading it and I didn't want it to end. This is one of my favorites of the year so far. Love love love.
It's the life story of Yuri Andreevitch Zhivago, who becomes a doctor and lives through the First World War, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian civil war, and the aftermath. He loves his wife Tonya, but also falls in love with the beautiful Lara, whose husband disappeared during World War I. She goes to the front to search for him. Through long separations, all of their lives are intertwined with each others' and with the railway that stretches across Russia.
Pasternak took ten years to write the book from 1945-55, and knew perfectly well that he couldn't publish it in the Soviet Union. He got the manuscript to an Italian publisher, which horrified the Soviet authorities and made for a world sensation when it was published; the book was the most anti-Soviet thing published since the Revolution. Pasternak knew he might end up in prison or executed for what he had done, but he considered Doctor Zhivago to be the work that justified his survival when so many others had been lost. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and had to refuse the award to avoid deportation and harm to his family.
So, if you are at all willing to read Russian literature, put this one on the list. Buy the Vintage paperback because it's a joy to hold and look at as well as to read. Also it has pretty good footnotes. Yuri Andreevitch is a poet, and his poems are included in the back of the book, by the way--several are mentioned in the text, so now I kind of wish I'd gone and found them while reading instead of saving them for the end.
I'm counting this as my 20th-century classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge, which is the last one I needed to do. Done! Woot!