Saturday, April 01, 2006

Book Review: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak is quite remarkably a poet's novel: the writer was a poet, and hence each page is full of beautiful imagery, metaphors and word play. The protagonist is a poet, the novel revolves around his love and life in the first half of twentieth century Russia. The reader, by association, has to be a poet to really relish the saga.

It is one of those novels from last century that everyone must read. The ghosts of socialism and Marxism, the excesses that occured in name of revolution, the transformation of the largest country of the world from ceturies old system into a failed ideal: the novel has enough historical significance. Last century was guided, molded, scarred, decorated and defined by the events and ideas that crop up as part of Doctor Zhivago's life. The literary underpinnings are gigantic: a love story with the Russian Revolution as background score: a Nobel was the least he could have got.

Besides the historical perspective, the story itself is a delightful one. The homely Tonya, Dr Zhivago's wife and first love and mother of his children, the sensuous Lara who weaves into and out of Yuri (Dr Zhivago's) life, her husband Pasha Antipov, who at every junction of his life must fight against ghosts and demons of his wife's past and present and in attempt outclass himself, the Uncle Koyla, the intellectual: the list is unending. Characters are crafted from all sections of society, making this novel a representation of whole society at that time. Like Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, the novel provides four or five chief characters, who are immense in their own potrayal, parting with their thoughts, ideas, ideals and philosophies, and possessing unique well-defined characteristics, the novel has another string of about twenty characters who are unforgettable for whatever roles they are assigned.

The harshness of winter, the beauty of forests and fields, the man divided in his love for wife Tonya and lover Lara, the poet in exile, the idealists seeking to change the world, Russian history and customs: such ideas find Pasternak displaying his poetic prowess. Many passages in the book are sheer poetry, and I am amazed at seeing how powerful they are in translated language: I wish I knew Russian to find out how delightful the original must have been.

It is a long novel, with graphic pleasant and unpleasant sequences and a writing style where its apparent that either because it is a translation or ther writer was a poet attempting prose, the writing is not a easy read. Requires lot of time and effort and most people prefer the movie that was made in 1965 or so. I think reading Doctor Zhivago is an experience in itself, and in this post cold war era, it contains the perspective and historical lessons that we all must know and understand.

An excerpt that presents a preview of all the things this novel incorporates into the love saga of Yuri, where his heart is in strife in his love for two women as is it in strife witnesses changes that challenge every aspect of his being and thinking:

"Even more than what they had in common, they were united by what separated them from the rest of the world. They were both repelled by what was tragically typical of the modern man, his shrill textbook admirations, his forced enthusiam, and the deadly stillness coldly preached and practiced by the countless workers in the field of art and science in order that the genius must remain extremely rare.

They loved each other greatly. Most people experience love, without noticing there is anything remarkable about it.

To them- and this made them unusual- the moments when passion visited their doomed human existence like a breath of timelessnesses were moments of revelation, of ever greater understanding of life and of themselves."

Loved it. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Blue Athena said...

Yet to read this. Will come back with my take once done. :)