Review: Dr. Zhivago

Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago is by the standards of Russian novels positively svelte, which means it still goes on for some five hundred pages.  I suspect at least in the United States the film of the same name, based on the novel, may be better known – although I have not myself seen the film and am only familiar with the score.

Set in Russia in the first half of the 20th century, Dr. Zhivago tells the story of a man who grows up with the unrest at the turn of that century, serves in the army in World War I – and then must deal with the ramifications of the ensuing civil war and Soviet state.  Pasternak is less than flattering on the subject of the Communist Party apparatus, and although he names no names that was still enough for the USSR to refuse it publication: it was instead (wikipedia informs me) smuggled out to an Italian publisher.

It does share one quirk with the other Russian novels I’ve read, which are Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Tolstoy’s War and Peace: both characters and author will periodically digress on philosophical tangents, and not only do different characters state different views, the authors seem to feel no need to make sure at least some character agrees with them.  This is most noticeable with Tolstoy, I think, who is constantly pointing out that such-and-such a conclusion is incorrect.

Not only much shorter, Zhivago is also much faster paced than those other two books.  I think if the events and many of the characters’ decisions were as drawn out, it would be much harder to read; as it is, Pasternak keeps his readers’ interest and his characters their sympathy.  It is not, I think, one of my favorite novels but is one I am likely to read again.

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