“Doctor Zhivago” is a 1957 novel by the Russian author Boris Pasternak. Due to the novel’s subject matter and it’s stance on the Soviet Union and the October Revolution, the USSR refused to publish the novel and Pasternak had to publish it in Italy after it was smuggled into the country by a friend.
The novel centers around the titular character, Yura Zhivago who is sent to live with his uncle after his mother passes away. As a young boy, Yura sees a girl named Lara whom he falls in love with. Yura harbors this love for many years as he goes through his life, becoming a doctor and marrying another woman named Tonya. Unexpectedly, Yura and Lara meet again at a military hospital during World War I where she is a nurse.
A while later, they begin having an affair but Yura is kidnapped by the Bolshevik guerrilla army and forced to work as a doctor for them. After he escapes, Yura finds out that his wife and children have been deported by the Soviets. Lara is also set to be deported for her husband’s part in the revolution. She leaves for eastern Russia, which is not under Soviet control only to return later to find that Yura has died of a heart attack. Lara is captured by the police and put in the Gulag where she later dies.
The novel was adapted into a film in 1965 which went on to win 5 Academy Awards.
The funeral procession of Marya Nikolayevna Zhivago passes through town. A young boy , her son Yura tries to crawl on top of the coffin as it is lowered into the crowd but his uncle Nikolai leads him away. The following day, the boy and his uncle take a train journey to a rural town named Volga. Yura’s father left the family years earlier and taken the family’s fortune with him. When his mother became sick with tuberculosis, Yura was shipped off to live with a succession of relatives.
The narrative skips forward to two years after Marya’s death. It is now 1903 and Yura is visiting an art patrons estate with his uncle Kolya and a handyman named Pavel. They are there to meet with Ivan Ivanovich Voskoboynikov, a teacher and writer who lives at the estate. Yura is looking forward to seeing a boy named Nicky Dudorov who also lives at the estate. When he gets to the estate, however, Yura only wanders through the garden and feels depressed. He calls out to his mother’s spirit and faints.
Meanwhile, on a train an eleven year old Jewish boy named Misha Gordon travels with his father to Moscow. On the way, a man commits suicide and the train gets delayed. Misha is affected by the death as he had spoken to the man beforehand several times. His father tells him that the man was a well known millionaire named Zhivago.
In the next part, the widow of a Belgian engineer named Amalia Karlovna Guishar arrives in Moscow with her children. Amalia buys a dressmaking shop on the advice of her lawyer, Komarovsky. Amalia’s eldest daughter, Lara is sixteen years old and a good student. She becomes aware of Komarovsky flirting with her and when her mother is sick one night he takes her out dancing. Komarovsky kisses Lara after dancing a waltz. Komarovsky begins courting Lara without telling her mother about it. In October, the workers go on strike at the Moscow-Brest railroad line. The foreman at the station, Pavel Ferapontovich Antipov is arrested for having a part in the strike. Pavel’s son Patulya (or Pasha) goes to live with Pavel’s friend Kiprian Tiverzin.
Kiprian and Pasha go to a demonstration for the strike which is attacked by dragoons. They manage to survive and get home safely. Nikolai, Yura’s uncle see the attack of the demonstration from the window of the apartment that he is staying at in Moscow. A short while before, he moved Yura to Moscow to live with the Gromeko family. In early 1906, the Gromekos host a musical recital in their home one evening. One of the performers is a friend and neighbor of Amalia.
Halfway through his performance he is called to his home because he is told that someone is dying. The father of the Gromeko’s, Alexander Alexandrovich, Yura and Misha go with the man to his house to find that Amalia has taken poison. She is treated with an emetic and the boys are embarrassed to be ushered into the room to see her half naked and covered in sweat. Amalia tells her cellist friend that she had suspicions but that it had fortunately turned out to all be “foolishness”.
Yura notices that Lara is asleep on a chair in a dark corner of the room. Unaware that she is being watched, Lara wakes and shares a private moment with Komarovsky. The couple is happy that their secret was not discovered and that Amalia did not die. Yura is fascinated by Lara but Misha informs him that Komarovsky is the man that was drinking with Dr. Zhivago (Yura’s father) before the man committed suicide.
Part three picks up five years later, in November of 1911. Anna Gromeko, the wife of Alexander Alexandrovich, becomes ill with pneumonia. Yura is studying to be a doctor while Misha wants to be a philosopher and Tonya, the Gromeko’s young daughter, wants to be a lawyer. Yura discovers that his father had a child named Evgraf with Princess Stolbunova-Enrizzi.
The narrative flashes back to Spring 1906. Lara and Komarovsky’s affair has been going on for six months. She is beginning to feel regret for being with him and asks a friend to get her work as a tutor so that she can get away from him. Lara’s friend, Nadya, tells her that she can come and work for younger sister Lipa as a tutor. Lara works for Nadya’s family, the Kologrivovs for three years and enjoys it as the family loves her like a daughter. In the fourth year, Lara is visited by her younger brother Rodya who asks to borrow money to pay off a debt. Since Lara has been using her wages to help support her boyfriend, Pasha (Pavel’s son) and Pavel who is now in exile, she borrows the money from the Kologrivovs and asks her brother for his cadet revolver in exchange.
The narrative then moves forward again to 1911, Lara is becoming discontent with her life at the Kologrivov’s. Around Christmas time she decides to quit her tutoring job and to ask Komarovsky for money. If he refuses her the loan, she plans to kill him with the revolver.
On December 27th, she goes to visit Komarovsky but loses her nerve on the way to find him and visits Pasha instead. She tells him that she wishes to get married right away and he agrees. At the same moment, outside Yura and Tonya pass by Pasha’s apartment on the way to the same party that Komarovsky is attending.
Lara arrives at the party later and tries to get Komarovsky to notice her but he does not seem to. One of the men that Komarovsky is chatting and playing cards with is a prosecutor named Kornakov that was responsible for Kiprian, Pasha’s father’s friend being prosecuted. Lara shoots Kornakov but the man is only grazed by the bullet. Lara faints and is dragged by guests to a chair. In the commotion, Yura sees Lara and is amazed to recognize her from five years earlier. He starts over to her, but instead goes over to Kornakov to give him medical treatment. Before Yura can tend to Lara he is told that he must return home because Anna has died of her illness.
Komarovsky protects Lara from being arrested by using his political connections. Lara and Pasha are married and leave town for Yuriatin. The narrative again moves forward to the second year of World War I. Yura and Tonya have also married. Yura is now working as a doctor in Moscow. He and Tonya have a son together.
Meanwhile, in Yuriatin, Lara and Pasha also have a child, a girl named Katenka. Pasha and Lara begin having marital problems and he joins the Imperial Russian Army to get away from her. Lara works as a teacher for a while before leaving town to search for her husband in Galicia. It happens that Yura is also in Galicia working as a military doctor. Pasha is taken prisoner by the Austro-Hungarian Army but, due to a mistake, is thought to be missing in action.
Lara begins working as a nurse in the military hospital where she is told that Pasha is alive by one of the lieutenants but is not sure whether or not to believe him. Yura is wounded by artillery fire and sent to Lara’s hospital. Lara and Yura get to know each other but Lara does not seem to like Yura very much. At the end of this part, word reaches the hospital that a revolution has taken place.
After he recovers from his wound, Yura stays on at the hospital as a doctor. Lara is still working as a nurse and this puts them in close contact everyday. Both Yura and Lara try to get permission to return to their homes.
Meanwhile, a new commissar named Gintz arrives. He is told that the local military unit has deserted their nearby camp and is camping out in the woods. A troop of Cossacks is brought in to retrieve the deserters and Gintz decides to go with them. A train of Cossacks arrive and they surround the deserters in the woods. Gintz makes a speech to the deserters and tries to appeal to their pride. Unfortunately, his speech backfires so spectacularly that the Cossacks dismount their horses, put away their swords and begin fraternizing with the deserters. The Cossacks warn Gintz to leave and he does but he is caught up with by the deserters and murdered.
Back at the hospital, Yura is granted his leave and says goodbye to Lara. He expresses his happiness over the freedom of the revolution, saying “The roof over the whole of Russia has been torn off, and we and all the people find ourselves under the open sky.” Yura tells Lara that he has feelings for her. Somewhat clumsily, he confesses that he feels that she is wandering in an ‘enchanted world’ and that he wants someone to tell him that he does not have to worry about her. But that if someone did, he would knock the man down. Sensing that he has overstepped a boundary, he apologizes. Lara asks him to go get a drink of water and come back as the man that she has gotten to know before.
A week later, Lara leaves for her home. On the train back to Moscow, Yura resolves to try with all this might to not love Lara.
Upon returning to Moscow, Tonya greets Yura warmly and tells him that she has rented out some of their rooms. Yura is happy to live in a smaller place. Yura greets his son, Sasha who has not seen him in so long that he is now afraid of him. Yura begins working at the Moscow hospital that he worked at before the war. After the initial burst of freedom, things begin to take a darker turn in the country. One evening in October, Yura reads in the newspaper that the Soviet power has taken over control of Russia.
Over the winter, there are food shortages and Yura and his family nearly starve. He and Tonya decide to take the baby to her family’s former estate, Varykino.
On the train to Varykino, Yura meets a man named Kostoyed whom he invites to dinner. He comments that the countryside does not seem to have been affected by the war and Kostoyed tells him that things are not better in the smaller villages and there are many peasant revolts taking place. Some nights, the train is stopped so that it can be searched by security patrols. Once, it is stopped because a station has been burned to the ground and the track needs to be cleared. Some of the laborers on the train are drafted into clearing the tracks.
On the train, Yura meets Strelnikov, a political extremist nicknamed “the executioner”. Yura is threatened by the man and nervous to be around him.
Parts Eight and Nine
The train reaches the remote, Ural mountains and Yura and his family move into an abandoned house on the grounds of the estate. Over the rest of the winter, they read each other books to pass the time and Yura writes poetry. In the Spring, they begin working on the farm. Yura visits the public library and bumps into Lara. He goes to visit her house and she informs him that Strelnikov is actually her husband, Pasha. Yura and Lara begin having an affair and continue for two months, meeting in secret. Yura begins feeling guilty for the affair and resolves to break it off and tell his wife everything.
But one night, when Yura is returning home after meeting with Lara he is abducted by three men who tell him that he is being conscripted into a military unit as a medical officer. The men turn out to be from the Bolshevik guerrilla army.
The commander of the guerrilla army is a man named Liberius. Though Liberius is an effective leader, he is also a cocaine addict and a self-obsessed narcissist.
For more than two years, Yura is held hostage by the army and forced to work as a doctor. He finally manages to escape and goes back home to Yuriatin on foot. When Yura returns to town, he first goes to see Lara who tells him that his family fled back to Moscow after he was taken. He also learns that Tonya was pregnant when he left and has given birth to a daughter whom Lara helped deliver. Lara and Tonya have since become good friends.
Yura stays with Lara and her young daughter for a few months until a five-month old letter from Tonya finally reaches him. Tonya writes that she and their children are being deported to Paris. She tells him that they will never see each other again and that she feels that he does not love her, though she loves him. After reading the letter, Yura begins having chest pains and faints.
Having once again used his government influence, Komarovsky has been appointed to the position of Minister of Justice of a Soviet state in Siberia. He offers to smuggle Lara and Yura out of Soviet Russia. At first, they turn him down but Komarovsky lies that Pasha is dead after falling out of favor with the Party. He tells them that this will put Lara in the line of fire and that it would be wise for her to head east. Yura convinces Lara to leave with Komarovsky, saying that he will follow her later on.
Pasha, who is not dead but is being hunted down the the Party, returns for Lara. But by the time he makes it back, Lara has already left with Komarovsky. Pasha is so distraught at the pain that he feels he has caused his family and his country that he commits suicide. Yura is the one to find his body the next morning.
Yura returns to Moscow where his health soon begins to decline. He soon meets and marries another woman and has two children with her. He still writes and plans many large writing projects that he never finishes. Yura finally leaves his family to live alone and work on his writing. But only a short time later he suffers a heart attack while riding the tram and dies.
Lara returns to the city to hear the news of her dead husband and ends up attending Yura’s funeral. She asks Yura’s half brother to help her find a daughter that she conceived with Yura and gave up for adoption while still in Yuriatin but she is soon arrested and dies in the Gulag.
Years later, during World War II, Misha hears of a local laundress named Tanya who is a war orphan. He sees her and realizes that she resembles Yura and Lara. Tanya tells him that she had a difficult childhood after she was abandoned by her mother in order to marry Komarovsky. Later, Misha reads the first edition of Yura’s published poems.
Yura Andreyevich Zhivago – the main character of the novel. Yura begins the novel as a small child who is sent to live with his uncle after the devastating loss of his mother. Yura’s father left the family and took his mother’s fortune, later committing suicide on a train. Despite this, Yura follows in his father’s footsteps and becomes a doctor. Yura marries Tonya and has two children with her. But, as Tonya confesses in part thirteen, Yura does not seem to love her that much and seems to marry her mostly out of convenience.
From the first time he sees her, Yura is in love with Lara and though he may not mean to, he effectively chases her all over Russia for the rest of his life, moving to Yuriatin at least partially because he knows that she lives there from their time together in the hospital.
Like most of the characters in the novel, Yura is an average man whose story is mostly guided by the intervention of the Soviet state and the reality of living in Russia in the early 1900’s. Yura is conscripted in one army and later kidnapped into joining another for his valuable medical knowledge. Yura’s life is marked by much tragedy. First his mother’s death, then his father’s and then losing both his family and Lara to the government’s machinations. By the end, he lives alone and wishes to spend his time writing. Unfortunately, he suffers a heart attack and dies before he gets the chance.
Larissa (Lara) Fyodorovna Guishar – Yura’s love interest and the main female character of the novel. Lara is a difficult character to define. She is sometimes a loving person and a good friend and sometimes a cold woman who does not seem to care about anyone but herself. She does not seem to be that affected by her mother’s suicide attempt in the beginning of the novel but she later feels so guilty about having an affair with Tonya’s husband that she befriends the woman and cares for her while Yura is missing.
At first, Lara is not interested in a romantic relationship with Yura but sometime between parts eight and nine, she begins having an affair with him and what caused this change is never gone into in detail. Lara seems to fear Komarovsky for much of the novel. He coerces her into a relationship at a young age and she wishes to get away from him after a few months. When he offers to sneak her out of Soviet Russia, she refuses and only relents when Yura convinces her that he will follow her at a later date.
It is revealed later that Lara and Komarovsky married and hinted that perhaps this was the outcome that she feared when she refused to leave with him. In the end, Lara returns to Moscow to find out what has become of her husband, Pasha but instead discovers and attends Yura’s funeral taking place. She is then caught by the police and put in prison until she eventually dies.
Victor Ippolitovich Komarovsky – a lawyer and former friend of Yura’s father. Komarovsky is said to have driven the elder Dr. Zhivago to suicide but how exactly he did this is never revealed. Though he is never strictly defined as one, Komarovsky is a definite villain in the novel because of his control and coercion of Lara. Indeed, Komarovsky’s main drive in the novel seems to be convincing Lara to agree to marry him against her wishes.
Boris Pasternak Biography
Boris Pasternak was born on February 10th, 1890 in Moscow, Russia. The son of a wealthy painter and University professor and a concert pianist, Pasternak was of Jewish descent.
As a child, he was an excellent student and considered to be gifted by his teachers. In 1904, he was sent by his parents to a famous school for gifted boys called the Holy Dormition Pochayiv Lavra in western Ukraine where he learned history, music, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and literature, among other things. Four years later, he attended the Moscow Conservatory to study music.
In 1912, he met a girl named Ida Wissotzkaya and fell in love when his father was painting the girl’s portrait. But Ida’s parents did not like Pasternak and persuaded her to refuse his marriage proposal. Her refusal of him inspired him to start writing poetry and many of the poems in his first published work “My Sister, Life” (1917) were about her.
After the outbreak of World War I, Pasternak began working in a chemical factory and teaching. Though most of his family chose to leave Russia after the October Revolution in 1917, he chose to stay on, continuing to write and make a name for himself as a poet.
In 1921, he published another work, “Rupture”; which was applauded by the pro-Soviet public. During the 1920’s, Pasternak wrote several autobiographical stories and married Evgeniya Lurye, an art student. The two had a son, Evgenii a year later.
In the 1930’s, Pasternak felt that his poems were going over the head of the less-educated public and took it upon himself to reshape his prose style in order to appeal to the masses. In 1932, he fell in love with another woman and divorced his wife to marry her.
In 1934, Pasternak became paranoid that he was begin investigated by Josef Stalin, an idea that was confirmed after a writer friend of his was arrested and Stalin called and spoke with him at his home. Pasternak insisted that he did not share his friend’s views and Stalin hung up.
Pasternak continued to have close calls with the Soviets and the secret police as most Russian authors did during this time but was never arrested and escaped Stalin’s Great Purge unscathed. During World War II, Pasternak served as a fire warden and visited the soldiers on the front lines, reading his poetry to them.
In 1946, Pasternak began having an affair with Olga Ivinskaya that would last for the rest of his life. In 1948, Olga was arrested by the KGB for her connection with Pasternak. Though she was later released after Stalin’s death in 1953, this event affected Pasternak deeply.
In 1956, Pasternak completed his first novel, “Doctor Zhivago”. The novel was refused publication in the USSR due to it’s anti-socialist ideals. The novel was smuggled out of Russia by Pasternak’s friend, Italian journalist Sergio d’Angelo The novel was a worldwide success and the following year, Pasternak was given a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Pasternak continued to write during the remainder of the 1950’s and was at work on a trilogy of stage plays called “The Blind Beauty” when he became ill with lung cancer and passed away on May 30th, 1960.