Sunday, May 19, 2013

Doctor Zhivago

My current schedule does not give me much time for reading, so Boris Pasternak's incredible Doctor Zhivago took me ages.  I continue to stand by my absolute rule to read only Russian translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.  This is a masterpiece.

I've actually never seen the acclaimed film, so the plot was entirely new to me.  The novel is set after the Russian Revolution and before World War II, and it's primary action is after the October Revolution and during the civil war that followed.  While I have read numerous Russian novels, none have taken place during this time frame, so I did have to spend a ton of time in the end notes in pursuit of context.

As a child, Yuri Zhivago has a dead-beat dad and loses his mother.  His uncle, a philosopher, raises him for a time, before he essentially joins the Gromeiko family.  He ultimately studies medicine, marries his best friend Tonya Gromeiko, and embarks on an ordinary life.

All this changes with the war.  Yuri is drafted, sustains an injury, and is treated by the beautiful nurse Larissa.  Time passes, he returns home, they head for Siberia to escape.  But Lara...

Suffice it to say, Yuri and Lara find each other again.  Despite both being married, they fall deeply in love and consummate the relationship.  And this is something wonderful.  Love despite the devastation around them.  The war is rotten, but Lara and Yuri have each other.

Doctor Zhivago is a serious primer on the Russian civil wars, a period I knew nothing about.  This translation provides excellent end notes, but it makes the reading slow.  This novel is absolutely worth it.

Next up: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.  Somehow, while devouring all he has written, I have missed his most famous work.  I will now remedy this omission.

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