Dr. Zhivago: Book Two

The Bolshevik by Kustodiev

I am a sucker for Russian novels, for snow and despair, and for tragic love stories. Anna (Karenina), Emma (Bovary), and now Larissa (Feodorovna), tell me how it didn’t work out for you, and I will feel sympathetic for your loss. I shouldn’t; it’s your own damn fault that you were married and chose to love another. But, I do. Because these things happen. In the midst of war, or the boredom of everyday lives, or utter isolation, it would be easy to be led astray. But how much harder to suffer the consequences.

Lara’s husband is fighting for freedom; after searching for him, assuming him dead, she is left alone to raise their daughter, Katenka. Yuri Zhivago was taken captive by the army to help the wounded. After he escapes, he is a fugitive. While living with Lara, they can neither return to their respective homes nor make a new one together. It is a hopeless situation, indicative to me of the hopelessness found in Russia during the October Revolution. Their joy together is brief and ultimately destined for despair.

“The closer this woman and her daughter became to him, the less he dared to think of them as family and the stricter was the control imposed on his thoughts by his duty to his own family and the pain of his broken faith…But the division in him was a sorrow and a torment, and he became accustomed to it only as one gets used to an unhealed and frequently reopened wound.” (p. 406)

But before that, their relationship is explained as this:

“Their love was great. Most people experience love without becoming aware of the extraordinary nature of this emotion. But to them–and this made them exceptional–the moments when passion visited their doomed human existence like a breath of eternity were moments of revelation, of continually new discoveries about themselves and life.” (p. 395)

How can it be both, a torment and a revelation? Perhaps in a similar way that the Bolsheviks are striving for their place in Russia…

A book of tremendous layers, political as well as social, it is always the story of Yuri and  Lara which most moves me. I can almost cry with her as

“she was shaken by her repressed sobs. She fought her tears as long as she could, but at times it was beyond her strength and they burst from her, pouring down her cheeks and onto her dress, her hands, and the coffin, to which she clung.

She neither spoke nor thought. Sequences of ideas, notions, insights, truths drifted and sailed freely through her mind, like clouds in the sky, as happened so often before during their nighttime conversations. It was such things that had brought them happiness and liberation in those days. A spontaneous mutual understanding, warm, instinctive, immediate.” (p. 501)

A mutual understanding which they were forced to forfeit because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Find more thoughts from Frances, Bookssnob, Marie, Jess, and Joan.

8 thoughts on “Dr. Zhivago: Book Two

  1. "it's your own damn fault that you were married and chose to love another." My thoughts entirely – somehow though I can't quite get to the next stage in feeling wrapped up for them and their new love.ps Sitting here typing this with the snow flurrying down….


  2. I think Lara moved me more than the love story but it was certainly the best bit of the book for me. I just loved the character of Lara and it was heartbreaking what she had been through.


  3. Someday I will read the book; the movie is one of my favorites (and their idyll in the winter house a favorite scene). Sigh. A torment and a revelation–so Russian!


  4. Somewhat off-topic, but I'll tell you what I'm a sucker for – you and the wonderful little details of your blog that always seem to open doors.When I was searching for an appropriate closet photo recently, I ended up in the Time/Life photo files, did a search for the 1950s and found – Nina Leen! My goodness, how prolific and talented she was. Just delighted to have learned her name from you so that I would pause and take another look, rather than just moving on.Which of course is part of the wonder and pathos of Dr. Zhivago – the story of what it means to pause and take another look even when we have to move on.


  5. Oh I just finished this today. I welled up at the end. Unexpectedly, in the last 150 pages or so, I just became completely and utterly engrossed in the story and my heart just broke for Lara and Yuri and Tonia and everyone whose lives were torn apart by the revolution, never to be mended. So much emotion! I couldn't bear it. I need to write up my thoughts and I found yours very interesting. It's funny how, for some reason, the infidelity in the novel seems to be excusable. It didn't bother me in the slightest and usually I would hate it.


  6. I just love how moved you are by this story. Perhaps when I finally pick up the Hayward translation, I will experience that elegance and simplicity that I suspect lurks in the novel Pasternak wrote. Would have liked to have felt more moved, more invested in their love story.


  7. Joan, it must be quite beautiful to have snow as your typing about Dr. Zhivago; a most fitting environment I would say!Jessica, I loved Lara, too. Although she may have been similar to Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary, she was somehow the most likeable of the three to me. She was never selfish or spoiled, despite having such true (not contrived) difficulties.ds, I know that scene in the film of which you speak! I remember it so clearly myself, and it must be twenty years since I last saw it. I want to rent it again, because somehow, instead of looking cold, the house they were in just seemed magnificent.shoreacres, I feel the same way when I visit your blog. You're always expanding my horizons, and might I say again I clicked on the Christmas Village Advent calendar today with the joy and expectation of a child. What a gift! XOXOBooksnob, I can tell we have a similar compassion for Lara, Yuri and their situation. While normally I'd be quite judgemental of them, I'm not. They had so much to endure.Frances, isn't it funny how certain novels affect certain ones of us? Now, for me, it was Virginia Woolf who left me cold. 😉


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