Doctor Zhivago

by Boris Pasternak

Hardcover, 1958

Call number




Pantheon Books Inc. (1958), 559 pages


Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. HTML:First published in Italy in 1957 amid international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago's love for the tender and beautiful Lara, the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times. Pevear and Volokhonsky masterfully restore the spirit of Pasternak's original�his style, rhythms, voicings, and tone�in this beautiful translation of a classic of world literature.… (more)

Media reviews

A la découverte de la littérature russe Publié en 1958, ce roman n'est autorisé à paraître en URSS qu'en 1985. Cette autorisation est un signe de l'ouverture souhaitée par Mikhaïl Gorbatchev. Le Docteur Jivago dépeint le passage de l'Empire russe à l'URSS, qui s'est traduit par une
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horrible guerre civile marquant les esprits de toute la population. Un chef-d’œuvre pour découvrir une Sibérie attachante et accueillante.
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3 more
New York Review of Books
At the beginning of his novel Pasternak deliberately deprives the Zhivago family of its wealth, as a kind of symbolic prelude to the revolution that is to come. Like so much else in the novel it happens as arbitrarily as if in a fairy tale: the rich king suddenly becomes a poor beggar. “There was
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a Zhivago factory, a Zhivago bank, Zhivago buildings, a Zhivago necktie pin,…and at one time if you said ‘Zhivago’ to your sleigh driver in Moscow, it was as if you had said: ‘Take me to Timbuctoo!’ and he carried you off to a fairy tale kingdom.” This wealth of gold both symbolizes and contrasts with the wealth of life which will be the precious gift and possession of the son, the hero of the novel... Tossed about like corks in the tumult, people are thrown up against one another in all sorts of unexpected ways and places. The ruthless partisan commander turns out to be the same young officer we used to know, rumored to have been killed in an attack on the Austrian entrenchments in 1916. The old Swiss lady walking past the trolley in which Zhivago has his fatal heart attack was the former governess of a noble Russian whom he had known briefly when they both worked at a hospital during the war. And this final coming together is in any case unknown to both parties, without apparent significance. And yet everything in life has significance, just because it is life, the thing itself, and not the abstract vision of how it ought to be for which the tyrants of ideology drench the world in blood. As Zhivago observes, you must live, you cannot always be making preparations for living—a sharp comment on the Communist promise that everything is going to be wonderful, some day in the future.
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New Yorker
Those who expect some kind of counter-revolutionary or anti-Soviet journalism from Dr Zhivago will be disappointed. It is not, in that sense, a political novel at all, although it is entirely about the effects of the revolution of 1905, the First World War, the 1917 revolution and the last war,
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upon a group of families of the upper-class intelligentsia and others. Pasternak is apolitical. His temper is Christian; Marxism is dismissed scornfully as half-baked folly and pomposity... There is no cliche of invention in Pasternak; there is no eccentricity either. He has the eye of nature. Another refreshing quality is the freedom from the Anglo-American obsession with sex. In love, he is concerned with the heart. It is hard to imagine an English, French or American novel on Pasternak’s subject that would not be an orgy of rape or creeping sexuality. Dr Zhivago is a great mound of minutely observed particulars and this particularity is, of course, expressive of his central attitude - his stand for private life and integrity.
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New Yorker
Doctor Zhivago has no doubt been much read—like other books that promise to throw some light on the lives of our opposite numbers in the Soviet Union—out of simple curiosity. But it is not really a book about Russia in the sense that the newspaper accounts of it might lead the reader to expect;
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it is a book about human life, and its main theme is death and resurrection... Doctor Zhivago will, I believe, come to stand as one of the great events in man’s literary and moral history. Nobody could have written it in a totalitarian state and turned it loose on the world who did not have the courage of genius. May his guardian angel be with him! His book is a great act of faith in art and in the human spirit.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Last year my book club chose The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel as our classic pick. Obviously we have a rather broad and inclusive sense of classics. While I enjoyed that novel way back when, this year, I wanted to read something that had been on my list for a long time, had in fact stood the
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test of time, and was fairly universally recognized as a classic. So I lobbied hard for Doctor Zhivago. I pointed out the newly done translation. I highlighted the love story aspect. And pushy me, I won the day. So much the worse! Book club is tonight and I'm afraid they are going to lynch me for my choice. Frankly, if I was anyone else but me, I might lynch me too. I have read many other Russian and Societ writers and have never quite felt the dread about returning to their works after putting them down as I did with this one. It was truly a chore.

Ostensibly the story of Yuri Zhivago and Larissa (Lara) Antipova, this a sweeping tale of the early stages of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath shot through with a doomed love story. Zhivago is a physician and a poet (his poetry follows the text of the novel). He is of the priviledged class but initially feels great sympathy with the proletariot. He volunteers to serve in WWI and it is while working as a medic there that he first meets Lara although he had glimpsed her once before in Moscow. Lara, born to wealth, lived through financial struggles with her mother after her father's death and suffered a Lolita-like relationship with the older man who posed as her mother's benefactor. As these two, both already married to others, continue to find each other after the war, through the revolution and then during the hardships and paranoia afterwards, they grow ever closer and eventually unable to resist any longer, fall into an all-consuming affair. But Yuri and Lara's love story is only a minor thread when compared to the sweeping and all-encompassing story of Russia's changes of the time, politically and socially.

The tenor of the Revolution changes in the course of the novel, as do Yuri's feelings about it and its potential. There are long and complicated musings on the philosophical ideology underpinning the Communist Party as versus those underpinning the White Party. Detailed and extensive descriptions of the Russian-Soviet countryside abound as well, with the weather sweeping through it frequently reflecting the desperation and despair accompanying the new regime's policies. It is no surprise, given the criticisms and even just the ambivalences toward the Revolution spelled out in the character of Yuri Zhivago that this was not allowed to be published in Russia and that there was subsequently a "request" by the government that Pasternak not accept the Nobel Prize.

For many unfamiliar with (or not avidly interested in) the details of the Russian Revolution, the story of Yuri and Lara is not enough to counterbalance the heavy political commentary. Even though I do have a decent working knowledge of the time, I found it tedious. Yuri and Lara as characters were flat and uninspired. The number of secondary and incidental characters was enormous and there was far too much information about each of them, especially when their background or views were not necessary to the plot in any way shape or form and their appearance in the tale was as fleeting as possible. Excessive is the word that springs to mind when I think of the novel as a whole, followed closely by boring. As much as I wanted to thrill to it as I did to Tolstoy's works so many years ago, I just couldn't. It's hard for me to say whether the translation had anything to do with the dry, unappealing nature of the novel for me but I don't plan to pick up another version to find out. Quite a disappointment.
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LibraryThing member uryjm
Oh, those Russians. Tortured, romantic, introspective and tumultuous, I deeply wanted to love this book. But it was as slow as a week in the Steppes. A love story, I hoped it would knock some of the tosh we have to read into a cocked hat. But Niet, it wasn't to be.
LibraryThing member writestuff
First published in Italy in 1957, Boris Pasternak's sweeping epic Doctor Zhivago stirred controversy in his native Russia. Set in Moscow and the Ural Mountains, the novel tells the story of a poet-physician whose life is defined by the Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath. The novel's underlying
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criticism of the Bolshevik party led to it being banned until 1988 in Russia. When Pasternak was chosen for the esteemed Nobel Prize for Literature, his native Russians protested so much that the author declined the honor. Felt to be largely autobiographical, Doctor Zhivago reveals much about its author's philosophical ideology and personal life.

The novel opens with the suicide of Zhivago's father just before the Russian Revolution when Zhivago is still a young boy. Pasternak reveals early on that the novel will be about truth and sacrifice; about one man's beliefs and how he lives with his choices.

As the story develops, the reader is pulled into the life of Zhivago, who matures into a young man, loses his wealth, marries his childhood sweetheart, becomes embroiled in the fast accelerating revolution and finds Lara, his true love. The overriding theme of the novel is the importance of the individual vs. the rules of the state and the terror inflicted on the masses in the name of a political ideal.

Pasternak writes prose like the poet he was - painting the chaos of the times on wide brush strokes of beautiful description.

Throughout the novel, the idea of fate - of being swept along with the tide of the times - is often repeated. Characters re-emerge in unusual ways, seemingly by coincidence - and yet we are left with the idea that some things cannot be chance and nothing is coincidental. The characters seem to be victims of the Soviet ideology.

Most people think of Doctor Zhivago as a love story. The love between Lara and Yurii spins throughout the novel, and reminds the reader again about the power of the individual even during tumult and upheaval. But, calling Doctor Zhivago merely a love story would be undervaluing its bigger messages. The novel is full of wonderful passages and beautiful prose; and defines a generation of Russians during a cataclysmic time in history.

Certainly a classic and one which will stand the test of time - Doctor Zhivago is a must read for anyone who strives to better understand the Russian Revolution and who has a love of great literature.

Highly Recommended.
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LibraryThing member technodiabla
I really thought I would love this book, having grown up with the movie and seen it dozens of times. Nope, didn't love it. There are some especially beautiful and memorable passages that make it clear Pasternak is a master poet. There is also the messy structure, ridiculous plot devices, and
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horrendous dialogue, that also make it clear that Pasternak is a master poet-- but not a master novelist. I can't say how much these defects are a biproduct of poor translation (there's only 1 to pick from in English).

The novel is undeniably important as a commentary on the social and political struggles of early 20th century in Russia. It should be read (though maybe first re-translated and professionally edited). If you choose to read it, wipe the movie out of your mind. The plot is substantially different, the characters are much less heroic (disgusting and pathetic in fact), and the novel oozes a theme of bleak pre-ordained fate-- not a love story at all.
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LibraryThing member eas311
Not my favorite work of Russian literature, but I've read a lot of it, and am kind of picky. So it definitely doesn't mean I didn't like it. A lot. My edition had a bunch of poems at the end (they were supposed to be written by Zhivago, right? so they're probably in everyone's edition - anyway,
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they were cool).
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
I read to page 60, but a combination of things decided me to stop. One, the book smelled badly of cigarette smoke. Blech. Two, it is dreary and very long. Three, the subject matter is not what I enjoy reading about. I am too old and life it too short, there are too many wonderful books waiting for
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me. Why plow through such a book of misery. Give me Dostevsky(sp?) or Tolstoy for my Russian literature.
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LibraryThing member lahochstetler
Reviewing a classic is always difficult business. Most people are likely familiar with the storyline, if only from the Omar Sharif film. Pasternak tells the story of an elite doctor and his family whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the Russian Revolution. During the revolution Zhivago loses his
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connections to his family and his wealth. But weaving throughout this undeniably tragic tale is the real focus, Zhivago's blossoming relationship with a young woman, Lara. The two come in and out of contact during the war, due more to the vagaries of circumstance than to careful planning, knowledge, or ability to execute travel plans. What results is a deeply tender and moving relationship formed in the crucible of wartime. Pasternak had a clear political agenda in Zhivago, to show the cruelty and violence of the Bolshevik regime, and to highlight the dangers of a corrupted regime. The suffering and misery of the Russian people are clearly acute, and Pasternak presents a vibrant portrait of life in Russia at war. In many ways this reads like so many Russian classics-- deep moral themes, dense plot structure, and a brilliant recreation of environment. It's difficult to review a work of great literature, but I much enjoyed Zhivago. I got the message, I felt the pathos, and I soaked up the Russian environment. I absorbed every bit of this book that I could.
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LibraryThing member Pauntley
This damning review is restricted to the Kindle edition of the Max Hayward, Manya Harari translation of Dr Zhivago, which is available at a budget price from Amazon with the cover photograph taken from the original Omar Sharif/Julie Christie movie version of the book. It is likely that the
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paperback version in the same cover format has most of the the same faults, but that is now out of print. The Kindle version is grossly defective; avoid it like the plague: 1. In its original version the novel makes many narrative transitions of time and place within chapters. In the original, these are marked by section numbers. The section numbers are omitted in the Kindle version resulting in continuing frustration in separating the various narrative threads; 2. Non-English words with accent marks are invariably mangled ; 3. The poems of Yuri Zhivago, which represent the culmination of the novel and Zhivago's life are absent from the Kindle edition.
I hasten to add that properly presented version of the Hayward/Harari translation, together with its appended prose versions of the poems by Bernard, Guilbert Guerney, is graceful, fluent and arguably preferable to the more recent translation of Zhivago (also available on Kindle) by Larissa Volkhonsky and Richard Pevear
The defects of the Kindle version of the Hayward/Harari translation are irredeemable.
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LibraryThing member booksbooks11
I'm lost meandering through this book like the train carrying Yuri and Tonya into the Russian backwaters. I really want to like this book, just listen to this endorsement featured on the back cover: "A book that made a most profound impression upon me and the memory of which still does...not since
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Shakespeare has love been so fully, vividly, scrupulously and directly communication" and this "..[belongs] to that small group of novels by which all others are ultimately judged". I can appreciate snippets of it like Yuri sleeping for days on the train seemed to really capture the mood of the book at that time, and some little phrases from heaven like the description of the sun coming up through the mist like a fat man in a steam bath. But overall I'm just not captured by it, otherwise I'd be reading it right now instead of writing this. Finally I got to the end and I must say at some point gave up on trying to track through the complex web of characters. Really if you want to enjoy the book take notes of the main characters and how they intersect at different points during the novel. I kind of want to reread it to put all the pieces together but life is far too short for me to bother.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
Caution - this is definitely NOT the movie. The movie took liberties and focused on the love story between Lara and Yuri. For those who think that this book is going to be just like the movie, please take note.

Now that I have that out of the way, Mr. Pasternak's novel is very much a love story but
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rather than between man and woman, it is between a man and his country. Mr. Pasternak's love for Russia is evident in the care he takes with the scenery and developing the characters in such a way that the reader truly understands what it means to be Russian. His pastoral descriptions are breath-taking and make one want to move to Siberia. His dialogue is pure poetry.

There is so much that occurs in this novel that it is difficult to summarize them into one short assessment. Dr. Zhivago's life is truly tragic and mirrors pre- and post-revolutionary Russia. From the loss of his mother at a young age to the loss of his beloved Lara, Yuri faces world wars, civil war, imprisonment by revolutionaries, and so much more. Lara, too, faces her own trials and tribulations throughout the novel. In fact, the best description is that each major character faces his or her own personal revolution. Interspersed with the tragic details are details about life in revolutionary Russia.

Speaking of revolutionary Russia, as an American, the descriptions of life in the early stages of the U.S.S.R. is fascinating. Mr. Pasternak gives the reader a glimpse of a world that the Western world has vilified and which the Russian culture has kept secret from outsiders. It is an amazing study of culture and history, written by a man who truly does love his country. I feel privileged to have been able to get a glimpse of this mysterious world. In addition, it has helped me understand a bit more about the Cold War and the machinations behind it.

Make no mistake, this is an extremely challenging read. However, if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with a better understanding of Soviet Russia, the Russian culture, and with some of the most beautiful passages I have ever had the pleasure of reading. This isn't for the faint of heart, and I'll admit that I had to do some side research to make sure that I understood the history behind the story. In spite of that, I am extremely glad that I read this novel and would recommend it to others who are interested in Russian history.
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LibraryThing member kotwcs
There are Doctor Zhivagos to be found everywhere, in the midst of every conflict. Those who do not wish exactly for peace, but for life. Set in the harsh, cold beauty of Russia, and given life through the eyes of a lover and poet, the story of Doctor Zhivago is a timeless, universal and tragic
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story of one in love with life and beauty in the midst of death and destruction.
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LibraryThing member redbudnate
Honestly, I struggled with this one. I had an easier time with War and Peace and Brother's Karamazov for some reason. This was a quote that grabbed me:

"Your health is bound to be affected if, day by day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at
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what brings you nothing but misfortune."
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LibraryThing member HankIII
I first read this book 3 years ago; read 2/3rds and for some reason stopped there. This time I read the first third of the book, and found myself questioning why in the hell I was reading such a remote partially interesting book; the characters with their various, constantly changing Russian names
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popping up randomly throughout the book; the unrealistic dialogue; the lack of emphasis on the events to where the whole book becomes a homogeneous mess; all contributed to a laborious read. That's the thing, you see, about a laborious read: you keep taking breaks until you want a friggin' vacation. I won't be returning to make another effort with this one even after my vacation.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Doctor Zhivago misses the mark for me; it's sweeping but a bit confused; it stabs at weighty issues such as religion, but falls short of being profound.

On youth:
"And making an exception only for his parents, he gradually became contempuous of all grownups who had made this mess and were
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unable to clear it up. He as sure that when he was big he would straighten it all out."

On the human condition:
"And it is this that makes the whole of life so terrifying. Does it crush you by thunder and lightning? No, by oblique glances and whispered calumny. It is all treachery and ambiguity. Any single thread is as fragile as a cobweb, but just try to pull yourself out of the net, you only become more entangled.
And the strong are dominated by the weak and the ignoble."

"Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long, grinding labor, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding rendered speechless by emotion!"

"This was real life, meaningful existence, the actual goal of all quests, this was what art aimed at - homecoming, return to one's family, to oneself, to true existence."

"For centuries the mass of the people have lived impossible lives. Take any history textbook. Whatever it was called - feudalism and serfdom or capitalism and industrial workers, it was unnatural and unjust. This has been known for a long time, and the world has been preparing for an upheaval that would bring enlightenment to the people and put everything in its proper place."

On living in "interesting" times, and revolution:
"During the revolution it will seem to you, as it seemed to us at the front, that life has stopped, that there is nothing personal left, that there is nothing going on in the world except killing and dying. If we live long enough to read the chronicles and memoirs of this period, we shall realize that in these five or ten years we have experienced more than other people do in a century."

"The war had killed off the flower of Russia's manhood, now there was nothing but rotten, good-for-nothing rubbish left."

On philosophy:
"I think a little philosophy should be added to life and art by way of seasoning, but to make it one's specialty seems to me as strange as eating nothing but horseradish."

On the body:
"Feel your bones. It's the bones that matter, the soft part doesn't matter at all, the soft parts mend in God's good time, and, as the saying goes, they're only for pleasure anyway."
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LibraryThing member santhony
Like most folks, I’ve seen the magnificent movie which was based upon this Boris Pasternak novel numerous times. It is an epic motion picture. In retrospect, it is a good thing that I did; otherwise I might not have survived the first 100 pages.

While I was prepared for the somewhat dense prose
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that can be expected from Russian writers of the period, the virtual avalanche of Russian names almost did me in. It was only my familiarity with the story that allowed me to follow the events preceding Zhivago’s arrival in Yuriatin. By this time, the characters had become familiar, in all of their various names and diminutives.

As I mentioned, the writing can be dense at times, and as Pasternak was considered a more accomplished poet than novelist, somewhat florid. Nevertheless, the writing can be captivating and the imagery, when taken in conjunction with images from the motion picture, is, at times, spellbinding.

The story, Russia in a state of political and economic chaos during the period surrounding WWI and the Bolshevik revolution, is informative and educational. Only viewing the events through the trials and tribulations of individuals can the challenges of the period be fully appreciated.

If you are familiar with other works by Russian writers of the period and are comfortable with their style, you will likely enjoy this work. If you read it simply because you enjoyed the movie, you might not give it high marks.
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LibraryThing member solitaryfossil
I just finished Boris Pasternak’s novel, “Doctor Zhivago,” and I’m a bit wrecked. I had to lie down after finishing. This was a re-reading after too many years. It is one of my all-time favorites, so highest recommendation! I’d forgotten how excellent it is. I always enjoy a good nexus,
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and the nexus here is my love of history, especially the end of the Romanov Dynasty, Russian Revolution of 1917, and gorgeous writing. This translation is from 2014 and it is wonderful. Yes, the movie is sublime, but the book is even better. I want to run away to Siberia now. Forward my mail to Varykino.
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LibraryThing member JLSmither
When I was a little less than half-way through Doctor Zhivago, I mentioned it casually to a thoughtful and well-read friend. "Ugh," he said without hesitation and rolled his eyes. I was confused by this--I was enjoying it so far. Sure there were a million characters, each with multiple names, but
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the Internet helps with this a lot. And the author does a pretty good job of reminding you who's who as you go along.

Granted, I expected to have trouble with this book. I have a pretty shaky grasp of Russian history. It wasn't taught in my grade schools, and I didn't pursue it in college. My 9th grade English teacher taught us Animal Farm as an Aesop's-Fable-type story about the importance of knowing your place. I expected to get lost in some of the "who's fighting who when and ostensibly why" details of this novel, which stretches from the early 1900s through World War II--a pretty active time in Russia. And I did.

But I kept reading (rather, listening; I got it on CD for my commute). I read without an undeniable amount of eye rolling until chapter 13, "Opposite the House of Sculptures." And then it lost me; I turned. Glancing through other reviews on Goodreads, I'm not the only one who turned at this point. It's a ginormous chapter in which two characters who are supposed to have the most pure, passionate love ever known to existence speak to each other in impersonal monologues, explaining their feelings and large sections of the plot that the reader has already witnessed.

The chapter probably shouldn't feel so ridiculously long and boring and forehead-slappingly unbelievable. The reader is supposed to understand the intense passion that these two feel for each other. The problem, obviously, is that we don't. And this was the point in the book when I realized that there wasn't going to be any further character development. The characters were fully formed, but they were wooden. The only other explanation for their reactions, emotions, and absences we'd get would be delivered in monologue--either by themselves or the narrator.

I felt and understood this great love exactly once: [spoilers ahead!] Yuri is headed home to confess his affair with Lara to his pregnant wife, Tonia. On the way, he convinces himself that he really didn't end things right with Lara and should probably go back and talk to her again. (Eye rolling, because you want him to be better--this poet/philosopher/physician--but it's realistic.) He's so overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Lara again, even if it's just to break up with her. But then, on the way, when the reader is anticipating a beautiful love scene, he gets kidnapped by partisans. And marches around the woods with them for about 2 years. And then, when he finally escapes, he goes to Lara's house first so that they can give speeches at each other for hours. "Ugh." [spoilers over]

After that turn in chapter 13, Doctor Zhivago wasn't able to win me back. The coincidences get ludicrous. Reading this, you'd think there are only about four houses in Russia, because everyone keeps appearing at the same places. They walk straight across Siberia and end up at the same house. Really.

(All of that said, Pasternak comes up with some of the more beautiful nature descriptions I've ever read. His scene descriptions are the strongest part of the novel. And the relationship between Lara and Komarovsky in part 1 is, oddly, the most believable and human relationship in the book.)

Once I finished the book, I read the Wikipedia page and a few other online resources. Maybe, I thought, I missed something. Maybe each of these characters is a metaphor for some aspect of Russian culture or history that is lost on me in my ignorance. Maybe that would explain they way they all interact with each other, fade and reappear, go to their fates. But no. At least, I didn't find an interpretation that supported that theory.

So, the question remains: Why is this Nobel-winning novel such a drag? Maybe it's because it's written in a style that modern (American) readers aren't familiar enough with--like trying to watch Lawrence Olivier act and wondering how anyone could ever have stood him for a whole movie. It's not very old (smuggled out of Russia and published in Italy in 1958), but it's a bit old, and it's Russian. Or maybe the reason for its popularity and critical success during the Soviet era had a lot more to do with what it said about the Soviets and less about its plot and characterization. Are the readers or the book to blame?

I don't have enough information to answer the question. But if you're a student of Russian history, I encourage you to read Doctor Zhivago and tell me what you think. Let's talk about it. Because it's very possible I just missed something obvious, and you have something to teach me.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
Rereading this absorbing saga after Lara Prescott's historical fiction ("The Secrets We Kept") where "Doctor Zhivago" was one of the main themes. Still impressed, like after the first two readings of this book long ago (one in the original and one in English), but now somehow seeing it with a more
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critical eye.

This time around (maybe after reading other books of the period) Pasternak's dialogues didn't sound as natural as before, and in general, quoting another reviewer, it was not as "profound" as I would expect Nobel Prize writing to be. Probably at the time of its controversial publication (abroad at first, rather than in its home country) in the middle of the Cold War it was on that level, though. Lara Prescott's book hints at the reason. All in all, after 10 years from the last reading, I went down a notch in the book's appreciation, and now I give it only 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
don't spoilers!

If you've seen the original movie (I just ordered the DVD from the PBS version), then you've only got a part of the story behind Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago. In 519 pages of text (there are also "Zhivago's Poems" at the end), the reader is taken from the excesses of the
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Czarist regime through WWI and finally to the opening salvos of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and beyond.

While definitely a commentary on the state of affairs in Russia under two brutal regimes (the Czarist regime under Nicholas II and then the Soviets, the novel also conveys several other themes, such as survival at the cost of shedding old forms -- for example, the rise of modernity (not meaning "modern" in the sense of the here and now but doing away with the old to usher in a new era without the old forms binding people to the past) and what it meant in terms of human civilization under the socialists; and art and its relationship to personal expression when the outlet for personal expression is limited and often even circumscribed. So it does go well beyond the love story of Yurii and Lara that is well known from the movie.

I won't do a synopsis here because for the most part the story is so well known, but I will say that the book is quite good and well worth the time you'd invest into 500+ pages of a novel. There were places that I thought the author's musings could have either been left out or shortened, but all in all, it is a great novel and a good read. I would definitely recommend it.
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
I tried, I really did. I made it almost 100 pages in. I even looked the book up on Sparknotes to see if I was missing something that would motivate me to keep reading. No such luck.

My review on what I did manage to read:

Yura is a young Russian boy whose parents are aristocrats. The book opens with
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his mother's funeral and is followed immediately by his father's suicide. That pretty much sets the tone of the book. It is what I think of as typically Russian - lots of characters, lots of drama and passion, some religion and politics thrown in for good measure, and lots of unhappy people. In the 100 pages I read, there was 1 suicide, 2 attempts, 1 murder attempt, and 2 or 3 other deaths. These people seriously need some Prozac. And every single person who is on the page needs to be named, no way of telling who will be important later, unless of course you cheat and check on Sparknotes. I can't understand why this was ever classified as a romance.

Too much, just way too much. Not for me at all, certainly not right now, but probably not ever.
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LibraryThing member lucybrown
Dr. Zhivago is sweeping and power novel of faith, love, and loss set during the early years of the 20th century and encompassing the Russian Revolution and WWI. While it is captivating entertainment, a heart wrenching ode to love, it so much more.
Don't skip the poems! Pasternak is one of the most
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important poets of 20th century Russia. About the movie. The movie starring Omar Sharrif is a gorgeous work, and a must see; however, the book is quite different. Story elements are different, for one, plus the book has a mystical quality and more rumination concerning faith of various forms. Do not feel that if you see the movie, reading the book would be superfluous. Both are marvelous, but quite different.
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LibraryThing member louisville
First published in Italy in 1957 amid international controversy—the novel was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988, and Pasternak declined the Nobel Prize a year later under intense pressure from Soviet authorities—Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet-physician during
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the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Taking his wife, Tanya, and the rest of his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago’s love for the tender and beautiful Lara: pursued, found, and lost again, Lara is the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
A novel of epic proportions. What a pleasure to read it in its original language!
LibraryThing member k8_not_kate
My rating of Doctor Zhivago is an utterly average 2.5 stars because that is what its extreme highs and very low lows average out to. This book is strange in that there was a great deal to like about it and just as much (if not a bit more) to dislike.

Doctor Zhivago is the sweeping story of a network
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of people living through revolutionary-era Russia. The main characters, Yurii Andreievich Zhivago and Lara Fedoronova, go in and out of each other's lives throughout the tale. Actually, all the characters go in and out of all the other characters' lives throughout the novel; that everyone is connected and meaningful to each other is a chief theme of the book. We follow Yurii and Lara through the turn of the 20th century and the Revolution of 1905, World War One, through both Revolutions of 1917 (February and October), and The Russian Civil War. They suffer horrible misfortunes like so many in the hectic period and search for some remnant of the beauty and simplicity they expected from life.

The best thing Doctor Zhivago has going for it is its epic plot. Pasternak expertly weaves together the lives of about a dozen important characters and many more less important ones. Their interactions and the situations in which they run into each other during the turmoil of early 20th century Russia can be very moving at times. The array of lifelike characters Pasternak populates his novel with are also expertly created and fleshed out. Lastly, the theme of inter-connectivity is a thoughtful one, and is perhaps a clever comment on collectivism itself.

Now the bad news: almost as tragic as the story itself is the wretched translation to English by Hayward and Harari that makes several parts of the book almost unreadable. It's shocking to me that a novel that is so loved the world over a.) has any English-speaking fans at all, and b.) has never been translated into English by anyone else. The dialogue in particular is cringe-worthy at times; many of the conversations between Zhivago and Lara (the great lovers of the story) manage to be melodramatic and robotically stiff at the same time. Since I can't read Russian and therefore can't compare the English version to the original, I supposed it's entirely possible that Pasternak is just THAT bad of a writer and the translation is not at fault, but I find it hard to believe it would have won a Nobel Peace Prize if that were the case. As good of a tragic love story as Pasternak has to tell, it is almost completely obscured by the writing.

Just as its very good and very bad qualities pull the unsuspecting reader of Pasternak's opus in two directions, I'm equally torn as to whether I can say that I recommend this novel. If you can totally overlook the writing in general and come up with better words to put into Yurii and Lara's mouths as you read, go for it. If you're not looking for that much work in a novel, skip it. Better yet, find someone who speaks Russian and English who can actually write and pay him or her handsomely to come up with a better translation for you.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
Even though I finished this book today, it could have been last year with how much I remember. I'm not sure why I couldn't get into it. I felt lost with a lot of the White vs Red part. It all seemed so chaotic. Probably the point as it was chaos. I felt very lost by most of the historical
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background, more my fault as the reader I guess. I've never seen the movie, but I've heard it is one of the great romantic film. I didn't expect the famous romance of Lara and Zhivago to be an affair. Kind of turned me away from liking them as he started the relationship while his wife was pregnant.
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