This is my latest historical fiction group read. As I have been keen to read it for a while, I was quite looking forward to it. In my ‘normal’ book club we are not allowed to read anything Russian or with red in the title! Anyway, I have to be honest and say it was quite the slog.
Here’s the blurb …
This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it. The book quickly became an international best-seller.
Dr. Yury Zhivago, Pasternak’s alter ego, is a poet, philosopher, and physician whose life is disrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His artistic nature makes him vulnerable to the brutality and harshness of the Bolsheviks. The poems he writes constitute some of the most beautiful writing in the novel.
My first issue, which is my problem and nothing to do with the quality of the novel, is the patronymic names. It took me a while to get the hang of that and for a long time I would think there was two characters when there was really only one. This book is long – covering many years (revolutions) and characters. I did learn a lot about the Russian Revolution though – I had no idea it went on for so long. Or that the reds fought amongst themselves.
There were long rambling philosophical discussions that just got on my nerves – Zhivago was definitely a thinker rather than a man of action. And all of the waffling on about wanting to write – just do it.
And I have no idea why it is considered to be the greatest love story of all time. Zhivago just seemed to go with the flow of events – Tonya, then Lara and finally Marina. Clearly Lara was his first choice, but that didn’t stop him living (and having children) with Marina.
Having said that, it does bear witness to a turbulent and terrible time of Russian history. It was brutal and chaotic and life was cheap.
I am glad I read it, but I won’t be re-reading it any time soon. There is the chance my issues are all to do with translation. I read the version translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari, although this article implies it’s the better version (but maybe Pasternack is only ever good in Russian?).
More reviews …