“If I had touched you with so much as the tip of my finger, a spark would have lit up the room and either killed me on the spot or charged me for the whole of my life with magnetic waves of sorrow and longing.”
- Boris Pasternack, Doctor Zhivago, p. 427
By Rebecca T. Dickinson
Boris Pasternack’s novel, Doctor Zhivago, breaks the heart of the reader as the plot tests the will of its characters.
As a reader, I feel the bittersweet morsels of Zhivago’s desire to live in every word until he gives up toward the end. The book begins with the turmoil of Revolution and ends in World War II. Despite tragedy in a seemingly gray world, autumn still produces colors of leaves. Frost disappears in spring. Life glows in the Pasternack’s powerful descriptions of nature, because it cannot be so in the lives of Zhivago, Lara or their spouses.
Descriptions of place and nature glue Doctor Zhivago together. They are also main characters. Every village features something that separates it from others whether the town has a monastery on a hill, a nearby cave, or everything is burned by the Whites or Reds.
“Here and there the woods were brilliant with ripe berries—bright tassels of lady’s smock, brick-red alderberries, and clusters of viburnum, shimmering from white to purple. Whirring their glassy wings, dragonflies as transparent as the flames and the leaves sailed slowly through the air.” – p. 343
A picture I took in the last part of winter.
The book loses its way when it discusses minor characters and their backgrounds. It is like going to a giant family reunion; you cannot recall how you’re related to Great Aunt Janet’s son-in-law. Trying to connect blood lines will not work for certain.
As a reader, I think where is Zhivago, Lara or Tonya? What has this scene to do with Zhivago?
I enjoyed the characters in the book; their weaknesses, strengths and the wish to find what life means in a time when life has little value.
Last year, I set out to read more classics, except I do not call them classics. I view them as the other books I want to read. I am about finished with Karen Hesse’s YA book Witness. I’ve started The Autobiography of Henry VIII, and I am still reading Charles Lindbergh’s biography.