Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, Pantheon Books, 1958, 519 pp
I couldn't say how many times I have seen the movie, which came out in 1965. I was a senior in high school and it made me a Julie Christie fan for life. At the time, I knew very little about Russian history. We were taught to hate and fear the USSR when I was in high school because it was a Communist country, got into space ahead of us and might annihilate us with atom bombs. I also had no awareness that Boris Pasternak was also a poet and had won the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. This is the first time I have read the book. It was the #1 bestseller in 1958.
I have an unexplained deep attraction for Russia and have loved any books by Russian authors or about Russia. I have devoured Russka by Edward Rutherford. Child 44 by Tom Robb Smith was one of the best books I read in 2009. Someday, like every other serious reader, I will read War and Peace. Russia strikes me as a truly unique country and culture, not quite Western, not quite Asian. The only difficulty I have had reading these books is that every character seems to have at least three names.
What I realized in reading Doctor Zhivago is that it is a recounting of the Russian revolution from the viewpoint of an educated member of the upper classes who was sympathetic to Marxist aims but appalled by the chaos, brutality and stupidity of the post revolution government. Yuri, the main character, is also a poet, a dreamer, and a romantic.
All I took away from the movie back in 1965, was the tragic love affair between Yuri and Lara along with the cold, the snow, and those gloves without fingers that Yuri always wore when he was writing. As a matter of fact, the book tells the story much better and it is even more heartbreaking though Yuri is not quite the romantic hero he is in the movie. Then I watched the movie again, understood it much better and despite the Hollywood influence, still loved it.
(Doctor Zhivago is available in paperback at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)