Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
I don't believe that I can be the only person with a towering to be read pile. What I can tell you, is that Dr Zhivago has been on that pile forever! Over Christmas and finding that I had a free afternoon, I spotted that the Dr Zhivago film was on the BBC starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie and thought it would be perfect to curl up with and hopefully inspire me to start reading the novel. The film was epic and wonderful and I was definitely pleased I had watched the movie before starting on the book.
This novel has been described as one of the greatest love stories ever told, which is incredible when you consider it was nearly not published. The Communist Party of Russia rejected it for publication but the manuscript was smuggled to Italy where it was then published.
The story focuses on the love story between Doctor Yuri Zhivago and two women; his wife and mother of his children Tonya, and Larissa Fyodorovna (Lara), a young woman who he has been destined to meet throughout the novel. Set in Russia during the turbulent First World War and throughout the Russian Revolution, it is a comment on the society he lives in as much as a potted history of the Revolution. The novel went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature and it is not hard to see why. It is truly epic.
Throughout the book, there is a real feeling of links, lives are intertwined and people met in passing pop up much later in the novel to steer Yuri and Lara on a new path. The cast of characters feels immense, but the closeness in the way the novel has been written, makes you feel as if there were only 20 people living in Russia at that time. These invisible ties to to people made me believe that Lara and Yuri were always destined to meet. Yuri spots a light burning in a window as a young man and it is Lara's light; Yuri administers to Lara's cruel 'uncle' who Lara has shot and the pair go onto meet much later in the novel.
This is a novel, ultimately, about Yuri and Lara and the people who loved them. Tonya and Antipov, adore their respective husband and wife. None of them are bad people or morally wrong and you genuinely believe that Yuri faces true agonies because he loves two women. Tonya, Yuri's wife, is incredibly strong, supporting Yuri and undergoing the harshest of journeys to provide the best life she can for her family. All the while, she remains uncomplaining about the ghostly Lara and the love Yuri has for this woman.
The observations about the Revolution are brutal. We see Russian fighting Russian and how truly divided the country has become. It is bloodthirsty and cruel and in the middle of this maelstrom is an almost astonished Yuri, a man who loves his country and wishes to serve her by being a Doctor.
Sadly the Russian Communist Party forced Pasternak to decline the Nobel Prize, who was told that if he accepted it in Sweden he would never be let back into Russia again. Pasternak did decline the prize and was to die two years later.
It is a tough, brutal, interesting and cruel read. The story of Lara and Yuri is breathtaking, especially when set against the dramatic backdrop of Russia throughout the seasons. The novel feels sweeping and provides a commentary of a country at war with itself. It feels important and I hope that somewhere Boris Pasternak knows how important the novel has become.