Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago

Boris Pasternak

Rereading Paternak’s epic at the moment. Makes me think about the movie, of course. David Lean’s film shares its epic sweep and grandeur, along with the emotional weight of actual tragedy. But, this reread (so far) brings surprises. I had forgotten how much of the story had been left out of the movie, how many characters never appear, how most of the back-story is missing in the film.

It would, of course, have been impossible to include much more. Pasternak fills the book to the brim with hundreds of characters, events, philosophical asides, and the national tragedy of millions. He makes Russia and its people live. I’ve only gotten through a bit less than a quarter of the book, and already I can see it would be impossible to fit it all into even a very long film. Though much of the early going is just not as dramatic, visually, as the rest of the novel, and is better read than seen, it has the source material for a long miniseries. Longer than the recent version starring Keira Knightley and Hans Matheson. I’ve just now gotten to the point where Pasha Antipov, Lara’s husband, has left her and their child to go to the front during WWI. She is searching for him, and knows little of his transformation from a shy lad who worshiped her to a soon-to-be megalomaniac.

Yuri (Doctor Zhivago) is now married to his quasi-step-sister, Tonia. He is on the cusp of meeting Lara again under circumstances that will change both lives forever. The best of the book is ahead of me.

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Boris Pasternak was born into a highly cultured Jewish family in 1890. His father, Leonid, was a famous artist and professor, and his mother, Rosa, a famous concert pianist. Boris was blessed with a family life that included visits from important artists, writers and intellectuals such as the composers Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin, the poets Rilke and Blok, and the novelist Andrei Bely. Rilke, especially, would be a great influence on his poetry.

Scriabin (along with his mother) may have been the inspiration behind his early attempt to become a composer. He studied composition for some six years before dropping out in 1910 to pursue Law. He shifted yet again to philosophy, studying briefly in Germany at Marburg until returning to Mother Russia in 1913. Poetry was his next love . . .

I’ll continue the rest of his story, along with more on Doctor Zhivago . . . in my next blog post.


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