Well, hello! It feels like I’ve been buried in a mountain of work the past few weeks… because I have. Between work and completing a certificate in Digital Project Management, blogging has taken the back seat.
But I’ve still been doing lots of reading! I’ve read some real humdingers, and I have a slew of reviews coming your way. First up…
Review in a word: Yawn…
Opening line: “They walked and walked and sang ‘Memory Eternal,’ and whenever they stopped, the singing seemed to be carried on by their feet, the horses, the gusts of wind.”
This story is the life of Yuri Zhivago. As a young boy, his father commits suicide because of the influence of his corrupt lawyer. Yuri is taken in by a friend of the family and grows up with Tonya, whom he later marries. At the same time, Lara is the poor daughter of a disreputable seamstress, who is the mistress of the same corrupt lawyer mentioned earlier. This lawyer, Komarovsky, also takes advantage of Lara. As soon as she can, she marries Pavel Pavlovich, a young idealistic puppy-like revolutionary.
Fast forward a few years… the Russian Revolution has begun and Yuri, a famous doctor now, is caring for those wounded in the war. Pavel Pavlovich ran away from Lara to join the revolution, and there are rumors that he has died. She becomes a nurse to look for him, and ends up working with Yuri. They fall in love, but Lara eventually returns to her home in Yuriatin. As the war becomes more dangerous in Moscow, Yuri’s family moves to Yuriatin, where Tonya’s father has some property. Yuri and Lara are reunited and they begin a passionate affair. Yuri is then captured by a group of revolutionaries and forced to take care of their wounded men. He is with the revolutionaries for several years before he escapes.
Because of each of their prospective involvement with the revolution, they are pursued by the government. Yuri returns to Yuriatin, but his family isn’t there anymore. Again, he is reunited with Lara. Finally, while hiding out at his family’s old house in Yuriatin, Yuri persuades Lara to return to Komarovsky, who has promised to keep them safe. Yuri promises to join them soon, but he actually stays behind, and Pasha shows up to reveal that he is the notorious revolutionary leader Strelnikov, who is being hunted by the Russian government. He commits suicide after confessing to Yuri. Yuri then returns to Moscow to make one more effort at finding his family. He dies there in poverty.
I love Russian stories. It’s one of my goals to read a Russian novel every year. Technically, this was 2013’s Russian novel, but it took me so long to finish it that… here we are in March 2014. I say that I love Russian stories, because I do: I love Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. But I’m not so sure anymore that I love reading Russian literature. I think I do love reading Dostoevsky, but Tolstoy and now Pasternak… I have a hard time with the long periods lacking emotional tension and excitement. Honestly, it was a lot like reading Les Miserables in that a few hundred pages of war probably could have been cut out, in my opinion. I was doing pretty well with it until Yuri was kidnapped, and then I hit a wall. I had to give it a rest for a couple months before finally bucking up the resolve to finish it.
And I have to say, the story is powerful. I love Lara as a character—she is fierce and whip smart. She and Yuri have a unique respect for each other; they acknowledge that they each have other families they need to return to, but they enjoy each other while they are together. They are one of the most equal couples I’ve ever read, with no one person obviously holding more power.
Doctor Zhivago was also interesting to read in contrast with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. I’m no scholar on this subject, but it’s obvious that Pasternak felt Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were outdated and too religious in their work. Pasha is a character who, like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy’s characters, goes looking for meaning in the world, trying to live up to an impossible moral standard. It’s his zeal for justice that makes him do so many evil things. Pasternak seems to imply that it is better to live a quiet life, accepting what comes and trying not to do too much harm. And, perhaps, there is no greater meaning in life.
“This was what life was, this was what experience was, this was what the seekers of adventure were after, this was what art had in view—coming to your dear ones, returning to yourself, the renewing of existence.” (145)
“All mothers are mothers of great people, and it is not their fault that life later disappoints them.” (253)
“Of all things Russian, I now love most the Russian childlikeness of Pushkin and Chekhov, their shy unconcern with such resounding things as the ultimate goals of mankind and their own salvation. They, too, understood all these things, but such immodesties were far from them—not their business, not on their level! Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky prepared for death, were anxious, sought meaning, summed things up, but these two till the end were distracted by the current particulars of their artistic calling, and i their succession lived their lives inconspicuously, as one such particular, personal, of no concern to anyone, and now that particular has become common property and, like still unripe apples picked from the tree, is ripening in posterity, filling more and more with sweetness and meaning.” (256)
Recommend? You’re probably better off watching the movie. I love the 2003 version with Keira Knightley and Hans Matheson.
Reviews coming soon:
- Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
- Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
- Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
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