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Doctor Zhivago Paperback – 3 Oct 2002
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"The best way to understand Pasternak's achievement in Doctor Zhivago is to see it in terms of this great Russian literary tradition, as a fairy tale, not so much of good and evil as of opposing forces and needs in human destiny and history that can never be reconciled . . . [Zhivago is] a figure who embodies the principle of life itself, the principle that contradicts every abstraction of revolutionary politics."--from the Introduction by John Bayley
The best way to understand Pasternak s achievement in Doctor Zhivago is to see it in terms of this great Russian literary tradition, as a fairy tale, not so much of good and evil as of opposing forces and needs in human destiny and history that can never be reconciled . . . [Zhivago is] a figure who embodies the principle of life itself, the principle that contradicts every abstraction of revolutionary politics. from the Introduction by John Bayley" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
One of the 20th century’s must-read novels: a love story set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, told in prose so lyrical it is on the brink of becoming poetry. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product description
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Though it may be heretical to say it, what I was left with above all was admiration for Robert Bolt's achievement in turning this ramshackle, rambling, discursive text into such an extraordinary screenplay for the movie. He stripped out the superfluous characters, radically curtailed the most protracted and grisly sequences (above all the Forest Brotherhood chapters), made the relationship between Lara and Zhivago more organic and credible, and breathed life into the crude stereotype that is the novel's Komarovsky.
At the end of the day there would be no movie without the novel, but I wonder how many readers would approach the book without first seeing the film? Okay, Bolt conflated the February and November revolutions which was cheeky, but given the need to sustain the narrative and tension it was understandable. I can see myself watching the movie again and again, but I don't think I shall revisit the text.
The characters find themselves drawn into the First World War, the February and October Russian Revolutions, the Russian Civil War and the Second World War. The main themes of the book are how families become torn apart and distorted by the demands of fighting and of Communist Party discipline; in the latter case we see versions of Doublethink as well as a deadening of individuals' critical consciences.
This novel has moments of sporadic brilliance but is patchy and not particularly strong in any one of the things it tries to do. As for the love affairs, well, perhaps I'm being a little unfair, but old Z seems to form a deep loving relationship with each woman he is in proximity with. If that's material for a love story, well all right, but then a variety of porn movies could also be sold with this description. Certainly there is little subtlety to the relationships; well not that I can see, although some readers attribute this to the translation.
Other books on the civil war: try Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the Don and Bulgakov's White Guard.
One of the marks of a truly great author is that capacity to break all the 'rules' of 'good' writing and yet still create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Pasternak does that here in this vast, frequently elliptical novel set against the Russian Revolution. Don't come to this expecting the lush romance of the famous David Lean film: while the love story between Lara and Yuri does sit at the centre of this book, it's also oddly opaque. Lara is as much a symbol for Zhivago as a flesh-and-blood woman.
This is a book which has no qualms about throwing multitudes of names and characters at us, of skipping rapidly between scenes, of missing out important parts of the story that we have to understand retrospectively by implication, of telling us things rather than dramatising them: and yet seeping through the surface confusion is a deep cohesion, a way of capturing both historical moments and somehow detaching from them at the same time to offer up something fundamental and satisfying.
One of the cornerstones of Pasternak's vision for this book is a sense of fatefulness epitomised by Yuri's sense at the end that from the moment he saw the candle burning in the window of Lara, then a stranger to him, his life has been ordained. 'All these people were there, together, in this one place. But some of them had never nown each other, while others failed to recognise each other now.'
There's much harshness in this book but also moments of serenity and peace: 'a breath of that freedom and unconcern which had been his climate filled her lungs'.
Politically, this moves from the intellectual excitement of radical change to the betrayal of the ideals of revolution. A vast and rich book that deserves re-reading.
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