Friday, October 28, 2011

434. Dr. Zhivago – Boris Pasternik

History: Although it contains passages written in the 1910s and 1920s, Doctor Zhivago was not completed until 1956. The novel was submitted to the literary journal Novy Mir. However, the editors rejected Pasternak's novel because of its implicit rejection of socialist realism. The author, like Zhivago, showed more concern for the welfare of individuals than for the welfare of society. Soviet censors construed some passages as anti-communist. They were also enraged by Pasternak's subtle criticisms of Stalinism and his references to the GULAG.
In 1957, multi-billionaire Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli arranged for the novel to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union by Isaiah Berlin. Upon handing his manuscript over, Pasternak quipped, "You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad."
Despite desperate efforts by the Union of Soviet Writers to prevent its publication, Feltrinelli simultaneously published editions in both Russian and an Italian translation. So great was the demand for Doctor Zhivago that Feltrinelli was able to license translation right into eighteen different languages well in advance of the novel's publication. In retaliation for his role in the novel's publication, Feltrinelli was expelled in disgrace from the Communist Party of Italy.
Meanwhile, as the novel topped international bestseller lists, the British MI6 and the American CIA commenced an operation to ensure that Doctor Zhivago was correctly submitted to the Nobel Committee. This was done because it was known that a Nobel Prize for Boris Pasternak would seriously harm the international credibility of the Soviet Union. As a result, British and American operatives intercepted and photographed a manuscript of the novel and secretly printed a small number of books in the Russian language. These were submitted to the Nobel Committee's surprised judges just ahead of the deadline.
On 23 October 1958, Boris Pasternak was announced as the winner of the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. The citation credited Pasternak's contribution to Russian lyric poetry and for his role in, "continuing the great Russian epic tradition." On 25 October, Pasternak sent a telegram to the Swedish Academy:
"Infinitely grateful, touched, proud, surprised, overwhelmed."
That same day, the Literary Institute in Moscow demanded that all its students sign a petition denouncing Pasternak and his novel. They were further ordered to join a "spontaneous" demonstration demanding Pasternak's exile from the Soviet Union.
Acting on direct orders from the Politburo, the KGB surrounded Pasternak's dacha in Peredelkino. Pasternak was not only threatened with arrest, but the KGB also vowed to send his mistress Olga Ivinskaya back to the GULAG, where she had been imprisoned under Stalin. It was further hinted that, if Pasternak traveled to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Medal, he would be refused re-entry to the Soviet Union.
As a result, Pasternak sent a second telegram to the Nobel Committee: "In view of the meaning given the award by the society in which I live, I must renounce this undeserved distinction which has been conferred on me. Please do not take my voluntary renunciation amiss."
Pasternak died of lung cancer in his dacha in Peredelkino on the evening of 30 May 1960.
Plot: Yuri Zhivago is sensitive and poetic nearly to the point of mysticism. Zhivago's idealism and principles stand in contrast to the brutality and horror of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent Russian Civil War. A major theme of the novel is how mysticism and idealism are destroyed by both the Bolsheviks and the White Army alike, as both sides commit horrible atrocities.
Other major characters include Tonya Gromeko, Yuri Zhivago's wife, and her parents Alexander and Anna, with whom Zhivago lived after he lost his parents as a child. Later, he marries Tonya, and they have son Alexander together. Yevgraf Andreievich Zhivago, Yuri's half-brother (the illegitimate son of his father), is an Old Bolshevik who gains a General's post in the Soviet secret police. In this capacity, Yevgraf helps his brother evade arrest throughout the course of the novel.
Zhivago's great love is Lara, whose full name is Larissa Feodorovna Guishar. Born the daughter of a Belgian factory owner, Lara's family, like Zhivago's, has fallen upon hard times. She ultimately becomes engaged to Pavel "Pasha" Antipov, an idealistic student who sympathises with Lenin's Bolsheviks. Lara simulatenously has a discreet affair with her mother's lover, Viktor Komarovsky. A deeply corrupt lawyer, Komarovsky's connections extend to senior figures in both the Tsarist State and its revolutionary opponents. Despite her intense resentment of Komarovsky, Lara becomes very adept at using her sensuality to manipulate her besotted lover. Suspecting the worst, Lara's mother, Amalia Guishar, attempts suicide. Zhivago, along with his fellow medical student Misha Gordon, visit with a doctor and successfully save Amalia's life.
Obsessed with freeing herself from Komarovsky, Lara spends three years working as a governess for the children of Lavrenti Kologrivov, a wealthy industrialist with Marxist sympathies. Then, Lara's brother Rodion Guishar begs her to ask Komarovsky to lend him 700 rubles with he has stolen and gambled away. Infuriated, Lara instead obtains the money from Kologrivov and severs ties to her brother. However, when the children graduate, Lara resents that the Kologrivovs allow her to stay on out of charity. Blaming Komarovsky, whom she believes has ruined her life, she attends a party and shoots at him with a revolver. However, Lara insteads wounds a senior Tsarist prosecutor. Komarovsky secretly uses his political connections to shield her from prosecution.
Ultimately, Pasha Antipov is declared missing in action during World War I, but is captured by the Austro-Hungarian Army. After escaping from a POW camp, Antipov joins the new Red Army. He become notorious as General Strelnikov ("The Hangman"), a fearsome commander who summarily executes both captured Whites and many civilians. Meanwhile, Lara becomes a battlefield nurse in order to search for her husband.
Following the February Revolution, Lara and Yuri serve together in a makeshift field hospital and fall in love. Neither, however, is willing to admit their feelings for the other. As prepares to return to his wife and children in Moscow, Yuri expresses dismay to Lara that, "the roof has been ripped off," the nation he loves.
Following the October Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War, Yuri and his family flee by train to their estate at Varykino, in the Ural Mountains. During the journey, he meets with General Strelnikov, who informs him that Lara has returned to their daughter in the village of Yuriatin. Soon after, Lara and Yuri meet and consummate their relationship.
While returning from an encounter with Lara, Yuri is abducted by Liberius, commander of the "Forest Brotherhood", the Bolshevik guerilla band. Liberius is a dedicated Old Bolshevik and highly effective leader of his men. However, Liberius is also a cocaine addict, loud-mouthed and Narcissistic. He repeatedly bores Yuri with his longwinded lectures about the glories of socialism and the inevitability of its victory.
After Yuri deserts and returns to Lara, Komarovsky reappears. Having used his influence within the CPSU, Komarovsky has been appointed Minister of Justice of the Far Eastern Republic, a Soviet puppet state in Siberia. He offers to smuggle Yuri and Lara outside Soviet soil. They initially refuse, but Komarovsky states that Pasha Antipov is dead, having fallen from favor with the Party. Stating that this will place Lara in the CHEKA's crosshairs, he persuades Yuri that it is in her best interests to leave for the West. Yuri convinces Lara to go with Komarovsky, telling her that he will follow her shortly.
Meanwhile, the hunted General Strelnikov returns for Lara. Lara, however, has already left with Komarovsky. After having a lengthy conversation with Yuri, Antipov commits suicide. Yuri finds his body the following morning.
After returning to Moscow, Zhivago's health declines; he cohabitates with another woman and fathers two children with her. He also plans numerous writing projects which he never finishes. Meanwhile, Lara returns to Russia for Yuri Zhivago's funeral. She persuades General Yevgraf Zhivago to assist her search for her daughter by Yuri. Ultimately, however, Lara is arrested during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge and dies in the GULAG.
During World War II, Zhivago's old friends Nika Dudorov and Misha Gordon meet up. One of their discussions revolves around a local laundress named Tanya, a bezprizornaya or Civil War orphan, and her resemblance to both Yuri and Lara. Much later, they meet over the first edition of Yuri Zhivago's poems.
Review: In the shadow of all this grand political change we see that everything is governed by the basic human longing for companionship. Zhivago and Pasha, in love with the same woman, both traverse Russia in these volatile times in search of such stability. They are both involved on nearly every level of the tumultuous times that Russia faced in the first half of the 20th century, yet the common theme and the motivating force behind all their movement is a want of a steady home life. When we first meet Zhivago he is being torn away from everything he knows. He is sobbing and standing on the grave of his mother. We bear witness to the moment all stability is destroyed in his life and the rest of the novel is his attempts to recreate the security stolen from him at such a young age. After the loss of his mother, Zhivago develops a longing for what Freud called the "maternal object," (feminine love and affection) in his later romantic relationships with women. His first marriage, to Tonia, is not one born of passion but from friendship. In a way, Tonia takes on the role of the mother-figure that Zhivago always sought but lacked. This, however, was not a romantic tie; and while he feels loyal to her throughout his life, he never could find true happiness with her, for their relationship lacks the fervor that was integral to his relationship to Lara.
The Russian Revolution was at its core an ideological struggle, forcing young and old alike to align themselves or risk extermination. Its uncompromising nature put great strain on the ideals of individual thought and choice, represented in Yuri Zhivago's constant attempts to come to terms with the Revolution. Yuri is the ultimate individual, expressing himself through poetry and recognizing beauty in all aspects of life. He is frequently overcome by emotion, and is deeply introspective. His affair with Lara was primarily fueled by passion and romanticism. However, he gradually realizes that his commitment to his own unique philosophy is rapidly becoming untenable in the face of a crystallizing Soviet ideology. His attempts to exert control over his own individual self end in futility: in one pivotal scene, he wounds and possibly kills several White soldiers despite his best efforts to avoid doing so. The taking of lives is a betrayal of his personal core beliefs, and Yuri is horrified and demoralized by the incident. Ultimately, the revolution's refusal to acknowledge the fundamental nature of the individual ensured that regardless of which faction Yuri sided with, he would not be able to survive in the new Soviet era as a true individual.
When he was younger, Zhivago enjoyed having political discussions with educated people, like his uncle Nicholai. Zhivago's views were relatively neutral—though not a revolutionary zealot, he recognized that Russia needed serious reform. As the story progresses, however, Zhivago realizes that many political activists simply parrot the ideas they have heard, reciting their memorized lines in order to seem intellectual. Still others actively seek power for themselves, taking advantage of the people's thirst for betterment by promising more than they intended to deliver. Pasternak shows what he thought went wrong in the revolution: that initially, revolutionary leaders had good ideas, but because of human failings these ideas were warped or even forgotten as the revolution progressed. Pasternak's strategy to convey this point is to introduce seemingly obvious villains into the plot, but show that in the context of the entire novel, the results of their bad behavior pale in comparison to the harm caused by the corrupted revolutionary effort. Komarovsky and Strelnikov are both antagonists in the sense that they cause harm to other characters in the book, but Pasternak cleverly uses them to show that their damage was temporary and relatively minor, whereas the trauma and suffering caused by the misled train wreck of the revolution was more permanent, often fatal, and certainly more devastating to Russian society.
Opening Line: “On they went, singing “Rest Eternal,” and whenever they stopped, their feet, the horses, and the gusts of wind seemd to carry on their singing.”
Closing Line: “I shall go to the grave, and, on the third day rise, and, just as rafts float down a river, to me the judgment, like a caravan of barges, the centuries will come floating from the darkness.”
Quotes: “The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what bring you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn't just a fiction, it's part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like teeth in our mouth. It can't be forever violated with impunity.”
“Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long grinding labor, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding, rendered speechless by emotion!”
Rating: Excellent

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