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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.
3.5
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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 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 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 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 6 April 2017
Not read yet
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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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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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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2013
Of course, Dr Zhivago was one of the great works of literature, so it deserves five stars. It's a story about people caught up in titanic times, times of huge moment and giant convulsion like the Titans, but also times of disaster and destruction, like the Titanic.

We meet a wide cast of characters and follow the life of the key protagonist, Yuri, from early boyhood to death and what happens after. I think one way to read this text is to simultaneously see how the immensity of the times - things come to a culmination during the First World War and the Russian Revolution - dwarf individuals and carry them willy-nilly on their own tides, and yet at the same time it is individuals who push and squeeze the times into what they are. It's only partly a love story, or several love stories, although the finding of love in the midst of or perhaps because of the mess of the times is a vital theme. I think at some level love matters as much as national revolution. But national revolution allows relationships that would never have otherwise happened, indeed conventional arrangements are shot to pieces. Pasternak brings lyrical descriptions and a sense of the giant nation. Such lyrical passages are contrasted with one of the most powerful and poignant and bleak statements in all literature as the final fate of Lara is casually disposed of in the moral bankruptcy of Stalin's Russia. It's not a perfect book, as others say, it has flaws, but it's a truly great book.

But what about this translation? I think this is actually better than the contemporary standard. My daughter and I did a book club reading and she read with more difficulty the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. We compared a number of passages and invariably both agreed that this old Fontana translation is better. Pevear and Volokhonsky have become very popular - fashionable - they almost dominate Russian translation today. But there is a kind of stiffness sometimes about their translation which does not help. The book has a basic list of characters but an index of key pages where you can remind yourself of who they are would have been useful. Two very important characters for example appear after a gap of hundreds of pages.Penguin publish a guide online to support book clubs or teachers and it also contains a chapter by chapter synopsis.
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on 30 September 2007
After reading famous books you often feel that whilst it was good, you can't quite understand why it has become so renowned. Perhaps it is because the idea is powerful but badly executed or perhaps has an incredible mood but the concept and importance are somewhat lacking. None of these feelings occur when reading Dr Zhivago, its artistry is superb, the dialogues and turns of phrase are often breathtaking in their subtle importance, beauty or both. This is a book that fully warrants its reputation, it is stripped of the idealism and runs almost like a political philosophy discourse at times in the development of ideas of equality, the human spirit and the paths to progress in society.

It is for this reason that I don't think the book deserves its reputation as a 'love story': it is certainly a human story with love becoming more important as a theme as the book continues, but the power of the context is such that one could say that it is a political book first and a romance second. However, such hierarchies are not applicable in a work such as Dr Zhivago, such is Pasternak's skill as a writer that the themes of the novel perfectly complement each other, he balances the issues of the history of the era, Yury's development as a person and the underlying current of the women in his life with almost orchestral skill. If Pasternak's aim was to create an illustration of the power, subtlety and synphonic nature of life, uncontrollable by 'men of action' then this is reflected in the structure and style of his prose.

The book had a great effect on me, its integrity was great and the whole book wonderfully honest. Each comment was razor blade sharp so I was often completely surprised that he was brave enough to write such things in Soviet Russia. He seems to have paid for his integrity with his life, echoing the life of his main character in this way and in many others. I would be unsurprised if Pasternak only wrote one novel on this scale; he seems to have put everything of himself into it.

The prose is not always pleasurable to read, it's even dull in places such as the chapter-long train journey. I also would have preferred a greater mix with descriptions and dialogues, there were few sections when the two were sufficiently mixed so that the reader has to often read very lengthy dialogues and intermitable (though often startlingly beautiful) descriptions. I experienced East of Eden by Steinbeck in a similar way: it was often not pleasurable so much as enlightening and a book that one should try to read at least one time in your life.
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