When my boyfriend and I just started dating, my mother gave me some advice. She told me to watch the movie Doctor Zhivago together, because every man who can sit through that movie just because his girl wants to watch it, is in it for the long run. I thought she meant the movie was too romantic for most men and gave it a try. Well, we both sat through the whole thing, but it took us a lot of effort. I don’t think our memory is a good representation of how the movie actually went (because teenage hormones), but we remember it as three full hours of shots of a train moving through a snowy landscape. It was incredibly boring.

So I was a bit scared to start this book. Luckily, I can tell you that the movie (or at least my memory of it) is not a good representation of the book at all! Doctor Zhivago is a very exciting, eventful book with lovable characters and great ideas. It tells of a few Russian people, who we follow from childhood. We read about them growing up, and we read about how they all deal with the Russian revolution in their own way. The characters are all very smart, sweet and loving people, who take time to explain themselves. And they have some interesting ideas, which makes the book really some kind of philosophical novel. I’m struggling if this is the right explanation. In Dutch, we have a word for a novel which gives room to great ideas: an ideeënroman, which translates to novel of ideas. It basically means that the story isn’t just about the plot, it is also about giving the characters a chance to explain their ideas. I’ve never read a book to which this complies as much as with this book.

Because of the political climate in 1957, Pasternak had to publish this novel at a publishing house outside of Russia. It was considered so revolutionary, the CIA even tried to get it published as well. One year later, Pasternak was awarded to Nobelprize in Literature for his work. The Russian authorities however were not amused and considered the prize an act against Russia. Under pressure by these authorities, Pasternak decided to decline the Nobelprize, but the stress caused by the affair had undermined his health so badly he passed away in 1960. In 1989, Pasternak’s son Evgeny received the prize in his father’s place after all. So the next time someone tells you literature is of no importance in society, you tell them this story.

I would recommend this book to everybody who likes historical fiction. Don’t be afraid because it’s some kind of ‘high’ literature: it’s really do-able, and it will open your eyes to many more books.

By the way, my mom was right. It’s eight years later the guy I watched the movie with is still my partner. He didn’t read the book though 😉

One thought on “About Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

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