Born in Moscow into a cultured Jewish-Russian family, Pasternak studied philosophy before becoming a highly regarded lyric poet. His epic novel Dr Zhivago (1957) was banned in Russia for its implicit criticism of the Revolution, but published to huge acclaim in the West. A vast, teeming novel set against the background of the First World War and Russian Revolution, Dr Zhivago follows the fortunes of a good man through desperate times. Doctor and poet, Zhivago's comfortable, happily married life is shattered by war. He becomes a doctor to the troops, returning to a home transformed by revolution. Attempts to live in simple obscurity are doomed to failure as politics intrude. Through horrors and sorrows he clings to human dignity and love, embodied in the character of his mistress, Lara, who is married to the revolutionary Strelnikov. Her story is entwined with his throughout. The book is pervaded by a sense of chaos, of people being washed about like flotsam and suddenly ripped apart. Zhivago is a particularly Russian hero, the traditional holy fool, his task to celebrate life through poetry. Restlessly seeking after truth, his rebellion is one of peace through the example of his own life and work. He embodies the life force as opposed to blind ideology and the life-denying powers of the monolithic state. As Pasternak said: ‘There can be no Party line about life.’
Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Sholokhov.
See RUSSIA CB