Boris Pasternak - Dr Zhivago

Let’s end the year with one of the masterpieces of Russian literature, Dr Zhivago. Did you know that the manuscript had to be smuggled out of Russia and that Boris Pasternak was unable to attend the ceremony for the Nobel Prize he won? Visit the frozen wastes of Russia and experience the upheavals of revolution, while revelling in the passion, poetry and splendour of this stunning book.

A hugely successful film

Did you see the David Lean film version of this novel in the 1960s? Did you fall in love with Omar Sharif, or Julie Christie, or both of them? Did you find yourself humming ‘Lara’s Theme’ for days afterwards? The film was an amazing success and its images, landscapes and music will probably always be fixed in our minds when we hear the name Dr Zhivago.

“An important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition.”
― Nobel Prize for Literature Committee

A powerful and epic novel

But have you read this powerful and wonderful novel? I’d love to encourage you to do so, and come with me on a journey deep into Russia with Yuri Zhivago, a sensitive and poetic hero, as he tries to maintain some sort of normality in his life as his country goes through tumultuous upheavals. Discover more about the man behind the book and see what experiences of his own went into the novel, find out what risks he took in writing it and getting it published, and learn about the poetic language and the themes of the book. Who was the model for Lara, that lovely heroine who is loved and wanted by three very different men? What role do trains play in the symbolism of the story, and where does Fate intervene to change the lives of the characters?

Dr Zhivago is an epic tale, it’s a biography of an intelligent and cultured man, and it is one of the greatest love stories ever told. I find its ending, when Lara takes leave of Yuri lying dead in his coffin, one of the most moving scenes in all of literature, almost unbearable to read in the intensity of its grief and loss: “Your going, that’s the end of me. Again something big, inescapable. The riddle of life, the riddle of death, the beauty of genius, the beauty of loving – that, yes, that we understood. As for such petty trifles as re-shaping the world – these things, no thank you, they are not for us. Good-bye, my big one, my dear one, my pride. Good-bye, my quick, deep river, how I loved your day-long plashing, how I loved bathing in your cold, deep waves.”

Purchase the complete Literary Readers Guide (just $5)

At just $4 this Literary Readers’ Guide is a real treat! In it I reveal intriguing stories about the author to help you understand what prompted this book to be written. I identify the main characters and their roles, analyse the themes behind the story, and describe the influence that the era, lifestyle and circumstances have on the book’s setting. Included are 8 thought-provoking discussion points, perfect for books clubs or just to get you thinking a bit harder yourself.

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Featured image credit- Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago. Geraldine Chaplin, Omar Sharif, and Ralph Richardson in Doctor Zhivago (1965),

Comments (2)

  1. clodagh harrison

    Thanks, Susannah, I’ve given myself this morning the pleasure of watching your video about Boris Pasternak and his novel Dr. Zhivago. Knowing that Pasternak was a well loved poet who loved Russia and forgave it all it’s faults, except the “barbarism” of the Stalin era, helps me to find deep sympathy with the characters in Dr. Zhivago. Sadly many of us have to live through appalling times and, as you say, Russia suffered most during WWII. When his family left Boris remained thinking it would be death to leave his homeland. I love your insight – it is the spiritual history of the Russian Revolution; human longing for love and companionship – loneliness – reassuring that the spirit of goodwill will conquer. I shall read the novel again with hope in the spirit of goodwill.

    What Russian writers went through in the Soviet Union is almost beyond belief for those of us who enjoy freedom of expression. I’m delighted to see the line of influence nurturing the great creative Russian spirit from the inspiring Tolstoy, to Pasternak and on to Solzhenitsyn. We owe these writers so much.

    And you. Thanks. Clodagh

    PS: I have a cd of David Lean’s film and watch it about once a year. Wonderful actors. Brilliant to cast Omar Sharif as Yuri. Scenery to die for.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the video talk, Clodagh. It is such a rich and moving novel, and of course the movie version is stunning. Next month, ‘The Leopard’ and Sicily – hope you enjoy that one too.

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