Monday, 19 October 2009

Tried & Failed: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Title: Doctor Zhivago

Author: Boris Pasternak

Year: 1958

Rating: Unfinished/Unrated

Plot: "Doctor Zhivago is the epic novel of Russia in the throes of revolution and one of the greatest love stories ever told. Yuri Zhivago, physician and poet, wrestles with the new order and confronts the changes cruel experience has made inhim and the anguish of being torn between the love of two women."

My Thoughts: I really wanted to love this book. I really, really did. And, to be honest, I didn't hate it. I just found it really hard going.

I think one of the main reasons I wanted to enjoy this book (major name dropping about to happen) is that my boyfriend is Boris Pasternak's great-nephew. One of the first things my boyfriend would tell me about, when we first met, was the stories his Pra-Babushka (Boris's sister) used to tell him and his sisters as children. From what I gathered, a handful of the family moved in secret from Russia to Britain during the war as Jewish refugees. It sounded fascinating and I wanted to learn more about my man's family history.

So I turned to the famous Boris himself.

There's nothing wrong with Doctor Zhivago. In fact, I can understand why this is thought of as a great novel: it's fabulously well-written (though my boyfriend tells me the untranslated version is much better), says a lot about Russian politics and also speaks in great detail about the human condition and a lot of famous philosophers (that, incidentally, Pasternak hung around with). On top of that, I began to uncover this great love story I'd been waiting for.

So why couldn't I get through it?

Well, I managed to read about a third of it before realising that I wasn't having fun. This novel took a lot of effort and strength out of me because, for a majority of the time, I didn't understand much about what was going on. I don't know the first thing about Russian history. I know that it's a Communist country (is it still a communist country?) but that's about it. I don't know anything about any revolutions that happened over there, any dictarships, nothing.

And I've never taken a philosophy class in my life so every philosophical theory that's referred to in passing went straight over my head.

These are subjects that I'm very ignorant about though I am willing to learn. For the last year I've had A History of Russia on my wishlist (that's more to do with my vow to learn more about countries I was never taught about in school though) and I think Zhivago's going to have to wait until I've read that instead.

Otherwise I'm going to find myself getting premature wrinkles from scrunching my face up so much at all the references I don't get.

I don't blame Pasternak at all for alluding to the history of his country - I mean, the book was written in Russian, for the people of Russia. It's just our fault that we're not taught enough about the wider world. I hope that one day I'll be able to pick this book back up and read it through properly and get captivated by the story. For now, it's going back on my TBR until I can get a proper history lesson.

From what I read, it's really well-written and the characters seem to be well-developed and interesting. If you have a pinch of knowledge about Russia's history, give it a go. Otherwise you might find yourself in my shoes and struggle.


Amanda said...

That's how I felt about a third of the way through, too. Sadly, I HAD to keep reading the book, because I was giving a book club discussion for it. From there on out, it just got worse. The characters stopped being interesting or admirable, or really even like real people by the end. The whole thing just got worse and worse. I hated it.

Anonymous said...

Thats such a great connection to have. I can understand how difficult it can be to get thru' a book if you are not aware of the history. Thats why I usually google atleast a little on the background if necessary. I might want to give this a try. I think the title is really catchy :)

L said...

I have yet to meet anyone who can get through this book. The original movie is awesome though. One of my favs.

kayerj said...

Interesting review of this book. I've heard of it all my life but never read it. I just finished "The Book Thief". I loved it. I'll be watching for your review. Enjoy.

Alyssa Kirk said...

Don't feel bad. Not everyone wants to read this type of book. I don't. I'm sure if I started, I couldn't get through it either. Just because it's well written doesn't mean it's what you want to read.

Try the movie. I don't know how it compares to the book but my mom said it was very good!

The Bookworm said...

I havent read this one myself.
Sorry to hear you didnt enjoy it, great honest review though.
Very cool about your boyfriend being his great-nephew!

The Bookworm said...

I havent read this one myself.
Sorry to hear you didnt enjoy it, great honest review though.
Very cool about your boyfriend being his great-nephew!