Doctor Zhivago

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!


  1. I think I may have to give this one another chance. I tried so hard but I just couldn't get into it.

  2. I read this book a few years ago and found all the cultural tidbits interesting. The version I read had long, long paragraphs where I was never too sure if someone was talking, or thinking to themselves and this was the one thing about this book that made it difficult for me to plow through. But I am glad I did finish it.

  3. I put this book down in the middle (during that train journey where Yuri and Tonya are fleeing to the country) a couple of years ago, and haven't picked it back up yet, but you've reminded me how good it is.

    Interestingly, I'm reading Solzhenitsyn's In the First Circle right now, and one of its many themes is the difficulties writers have in a society without freedom of expression. One of the characters churns out "approved" plays and novels that glorify the Soviet system, while inwardly longing to read something else, and write something else, but he doesn't dare. How inspiring Pasternak was!

    I really must pick this book back up. (And I LOVE that there are poems by Yuri included--just like in Possession, by A.S. Byatt.)

  4. I just got In the First Circle! I'm excited about reading it but it'll be a little while before I can get to it.

  5. I love especially how Pasternak wrote Doctor Zhivago beautifully. Although I sometimes lost in the middle of Bolshevik thoughts, but I can still catch the 'soul'.


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