Of February, and almost constantly
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned
-From the poems of Yurii Zhivago-
The novel opens with the suicide of Zhivago’s father just before the Russian Revolution when Zhivago is still a young boy. Pasternak reveals early on that the novel will be about truth and sacrifice; about one man’s beliefs and how he lives with his choices.
As the story develops, the reader is pulled into the life of Zhivago, who matures into a young man, loses his wealth, marries his childhood sweetheart, becomes embroiled in the fast accelerating revolution and finds Lara, his true love. The overriding theme of the novel is the importance of the individual vs. the rules of the state and the terror inflicted on the masses in the name of a political ideal.
Pasternak writes prose like the poet he was – painting the chaos of the times on wide brush strokes of beautiful description.
Throughout the novel, the idea of fate – of being swept along with the tide of the times – is often repeated. Characters re-emerge in unusual ways, seemingly by coincidence – and yet we are left with the idea that some things cannot be chance and nothing is coincidental. The characters seem to be victims of the Soviet ideology.
Most people think of Doctor Zhivago as a love story. The love between Lara and Yurii spins throughout the novel, and reminds the reader again about the power of the individual even during tumult and upheaval. But, calling Doctor Zhivago merely a love story would be undervaluing its bigger messages. The novel is full of wonderful passages and beautiful prose; and defines a generation of Russians during a cataclysmic time in history.
Certainly a classic and one which will stand the test of time – Doctor Zhivago is a must read for anyone who strives to better understand the Russian Revolution and who has a love of great literature.