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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Doctor Zhivago
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on 15 January 2016
Somebody described this novel as 'a flawed masterpiece' which I think was apt. When I first read the book many years ago I would have laid the emphasis on masterpiece, but this time around I would stress the flawed. It's fairly obvious that Pasternak was not a natural novelist to say the least. The plot is disjointed, the coincidences ridiculous, characters appear and disappear in a confusing way, and there are long digressions about philosophy, poetry, history, nature, politics: you name it Pasternak provides it. I am actually rather surprised that it gets such good reviews here. I had to really struggle at times at sustain my interest.
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.
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on 19 April 2011
It's pretty much all been said in other positive reviews - anyone expecting a love story and little else will be disappointed, but if you want to get a feel for Russia post Great War, read on...I particularly like the moral aspect of the book, and his struggle to make sense of a world that has changed irrevocably. If you have a passion for history (like me) try it - I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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on 3 October 2017
It’s an epic story but requires stamina to keep going. The download version for kindle has some typos
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on 29 June 2015
A very good read but a bit over detailed as compared to the film version.
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on 3 March 2013
First of all it needs to be said: this is not a love story. The problem is that television and film have made it so and this is reinforced by the publisher's blurb writer trying to cash in on this.

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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 January 2017
"Art has two constant, two unending preoccupations: it is always meditating on death and it is always thereby creating life"

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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on 3 December 2012
This is a most fascinating epic novel set in the turbulent times in Russia in the early twentieth century. Doctor Yuri Andreevich Zhivago is apolitical at the time of the October Revolution and the subsequent civil war. But, forced to work as a doctor for the partisans (Bolsheviks), he witnesses brutality and inhumanity committed by both sides. He reflects: "This time justified the old saying: Man is a wolf to man.... The human laws of civilisation ended. Those of beasts were in force. Man dreamed the prehistoric dreams of the caveman."

The relationship between Zhivago and Lara is, of course, the central theme. Their lives get tragically torn apart by the brutal forces beyond their control. When one realises that millions of Russians suffered the similar fate like Zhivago and Lara during the Revolution and civil war and under the totalitarian Soviet regime, the fate of these characters becomes poignant. The author's view on politics in Soviet Russia affecting ordinary citizens is an important theme. Pasternak writes: "Revolutions are produced by men of action, one-sided fanatics, geniuses of self-limitation. In a few hours or days they overturn the old order. The upheavals last for weeks, for years at the most, and then for decades, for centuries, people bow down to the spirit of limitation that led to the upheavals as to something sacred."

He also writes later on: "It was precisely the conformity, the transparency of their (Soviet officials') hypocrisy that exasperated Yuri Andreevich. The unfree man always idealises his slavery. So it was in the Middle Ages; it was on this that the Jesuits always played. Yuri Andreevich could not bear the political mysticism of the Soviet intelligentsia, which was its highest achievement, or, as they would have said then, the spiritual ceiling of the epoch." These are very brave comments to make about the political system during the repressive Soviet era.

It is easy to understand the reasons why the publication of this book in Soviet Union was banned by its authorities and Pasternak was forced by the Communist Party to decline the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.

Pasternak's vivid and poetic descriptions of nature are very good indeed. The reader will realise that he was a great poet (as he is apparently known in Russia more than as a novelist) and a religious man.

I find the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (an experienced husband-and-wife team) excellent. I have not read other translations, but with this present version I feel the reader will be able to fully appreciate the beauty of the writing. Finally, with detailed notes by the translators, it's possible to follow military and political developments during the civil war and the subsequent period as well as understand some of Orthodox Church customs.
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on 9 February 2011
I adored the film version of Dr. Zhivago as a teenager and upon finally reading Boris Pasternak's novel I am even more in love with the story than ever.

As the reviewer prior to myself has put very elegantly, this is far more than a story of the relationship between Yuri and Lara. I feel that the novel allows the reader greater access to the different relationships that Russians had with their country at this point in history depending on their political perspectives.

Although it is difficult for me to express this eloquently, I felt that the real love story of Dr. Zhivago was that of Boris Pasternak for his beloved Russia, which had changed so markedly that life with her could never be the same again.

A beautifully bound edition of a powerful story.
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on 14 March 2007
Frequently considered one of the most sublime love stories ever told, Pasternak's masterpiece marked a significant moment in the history of Russian literature. Although rejected for publication, the furore around its censorship was the first step in liberating creativity from the clutches of the ideologues. This historical significance barely scrapes the iceberg in comparison to the beauty of the events it portrays. In this tale of love and loss and struggle for survival during the Russian Revolution, Pasternak captures better than anyone else the supreme majesty of the simple things in life. The view from a study window, the freedom of living ones life free from compulsion and terror. But that is the lot of some periods of history and it is in how you cope with these strains which determine your life. Yes, this novel focuses on the upper classes and the erosion of the uncontested freedoms they once enjoyed, but it is so much more than that. This is a novel about human freedom from compulsion, whether you are a millionaire or a pauper, the liberation of the human spirit should begin here and now, with this book.
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on 5 January 2001
This book requires more than time on the train to read it; it needs concentration and devotion. But the reward of reading it! The book is a beautiful and tragic tale of Russia with all its social upheavals and in the middle we have a heartbreaking love-story between two people caught in all the craziness of mankind. It is a wonderful comparison of historical events and changes and the fate of the small individual amidst these impersonal events. Lara and Yuri's impossibility to be together forever is obvious from the start even to them, but never does one stop hoping that somehow things will change and that there will be room in the world they inhabit for people like them. The novel explores Russian society in its most difficult times; the poverty, hunger, danger, the hopelessness of it all, yet the hope people still keep within themselves for a better future. The devotion of Strelnikov, Lara's husband, to his cause is an example of the desperate attempts of people to try and create something out of themselves, this world, to try and rise beyond the fragility of human experience. Yet the serenity and modesty with which some of the characters accept their fate is just as heartbreaking as the love-story. The things people live through, and still manage to have hope; this is amazing in the novel. Yuri's poems at the end of the book are beautiful also.
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