Doctor Zhivago – Reviewed

Doctor ZhivagoDoctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying this book was hard to read. The font was smaller than average, it was incredibly dense (not necessarily a bad thing) and a myriad of characters. The latter point has its own added complexities, given that it’s set in Russia. So for starters, you have this enormous number of people with unpronounceable Russian names. Then you can multiply that by two as each one has a male patronymic and diminutive. This is acknowledged by the translators who have a section at the start tilted “Principle characters in this novel”. Sometimes it can be easy to forget who said/did what. Is this relevant to the narrative, or a fleeting occurrence? Being an old library book it was also quite smelly.

Having said all that, the book gets quite good in the final third. Up until then I did consider shelving it for a while, but in the spirit of Mastermind, I started so I’ll finish…

It’s the greatest story of “Will they, won’t they?” ever told. With quite an obvious hint as to the outcome. Reductively, you could compare it to a man chasing a woman through some trees in a Bollywood film. The trees being a metaphor for the Russian revolution. The book was educational in respect of Russian history and it did give me some inspiration for some modern satire. Probably worth reading for that reason alone. Personally, I don’t feel satisfied by Pasternak’s reasons for Yury’s love of Lara. This is a medical doctor, who is prepared to give up his wife and kids, falls head over heels and the explanation is little more than love at first sight or innate beauty. Pasternak probably did explain it a bit more than that, but I must confess I wasn’t paying that much attention.

His writing was beautiful provoking interesting visuals but at times a little too verbose. Bizarrely, the translation hyphenated words like “to-day” and “to-morrow”. I’ve read some old literature and never come across anything like this. Besides, being set, written and translated in the 20th century, this shouldn’t be a reason for this spelling. I am unsatisfied by Yury’s brother being a mysterious deus ex machina, whose powers are never fully explained. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the ending but it did leave a nice legacy, tying up loose ends.

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