The Good(?) Doctor

I was hard-pressed with family, plus behind in getting out interviews,(so they are slow coming in), and also hard-pressed to find a book to review whose author is not A) a former guest B) a future guest or C) the Hound or past/present Fox.

However, I ran across the review of a new book that makes everything a bit clearer to me about one particular author: Boris Pasternak.

In the late 60s I started reading a lot of Russian literature because I watched the serialized Russian “War and Peace”. I was as curious as all get-out. I read a great deal of Tolstoy and moved on to others. (FYI: Anna Karenina is a literal throw-away. Tolstoy kept throwing the pages out and his daughter kept retrieving them to send to a magazine editor simply to get the money. She’d push, he’d write and throw them out. It was a vicious cycle and it shows. I never read through it. It is a dirty shame that if a library has any Tolstoy on their shelves, it is that rag.)

I admit that could not deal with Dostoyevsky, as every character seemed to me at the time to be way too crazy.

Anyway, out of sheer curiosity I read Dr. Zhivago. I had not seen the movie and I was intent to see the story play out. I became completely smitten with the poetry of Dr. Zhivago, but I did not understand why anyone thought of the book as a love story.

When I saw the movie many years later, I was not happy. The only character that they happened to ‘get right’ was Viktor Kormarovsky, who was portrayed incredibly by Rod Steiger. Otherwise, they changed characters, made them shallow and tried to play it all up as a ‘love story’.

It isn’t. If you have never read the book, Dr. Z was very fond of and had great feelings for his wife and he had great ties and affection for her family, which became his.  However, after all was over:

He never tried to get to his wife and children.

He never tried to find Lara.

He ‘took up’ with another young woman and had a family with her.

So not a  true ‘love story’.

I read other works of Pasternak’s. I truly loved more of his poetry. What is amazing is that he wrote Dr. Zhivago’s poetry AS Dr. Zhivago, in another voice, in Dr. Zhivago’s voice, unlike his own.

I always meant to buy a good translation of his poetry to have for myself, but I have not.

I have not revisited any of Pasternak’s works in a number of decades, but I just found that his niece published a books two years ago that explains a great deal.

Apparently, Boris himself had a ‘love’ not unlike Lara.  Their relationship was a scandal to the family, but they had other problems to consider, such as his anti-Soviet writings, which made the authorities very nervous.  His mistress was twice sent to Siberian prison camps  because she would not betray Boris and would not answer questions about his writings, of which apparently, she has a great deal of influence, considering herself as his “muse”. When she was released, she expected that her loyalty and devotion would be repaid by his leaving his wife for her and that her devotion would be reciprocated, but it was not, (despite the fact that Pasternak had been married and divorced multiple times previously).

He was an even weaker man than he wrote Zhivago to be. His claim to fame seems to be more that he created an international shake-up and made the Soviets upset during The Cold War than anything else.

That really isn’t enough, is it?

Perhaps there is more of Pasternak in Zhivago than I assumed, more of him in the poetry. I cannot say that I admire the man, but I can still enjoy the poetry, whether or not it is more of the translator’s work than his.

(At this point, I started to go into thoughts on translations, but I will save all that came to mind for another day, probably for our next ‘Free Week’ in two weeks).

Do you like the Dr. Zhivago movie?
Have you read the book?
Does a writer’s personal life affect your disposition towards his/her writing?


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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9 Responses to The Good(?) Doctor

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    Your explanation of the poetry finally allows me to understand why — around the time the film came out — I began seeing slender volumes of Dr. Zhivago’s poetry. “But Zhivago is only a character,” I would say. “How could he write poetry?” So I would refer to it as Pasternak’s poetry.
    Never got interested enough to purchase a copy, but now that I know — fro you — that Pasternak wrote it “AS” Zhivago… I think I may be interested enough to give it a try.
    Though I love poetry — and have written a good deal of it — I’m not really one to just sit and read poems.
    As for the film: yes, I saw it when it came out and on other occasions since. Plus, I’ve seen bits and pieces several times. I had not realized that the script writers changed SO MUCH from the book. I’ll bet Pasternak would have rolled in his grave.


    • Yes,I agree. I don’t think Pasternak would have been thrilled that they took his purposely controversial work and watered it down politically. It also very much played-down the suffering of the people at the hands of both sides of the socio-political spectrum. It is a lesson that all should see, actually, lest history repeats itself, which it looks like it is doing now. No moderation is wrong; you can’t have peasents toiling away and starving while only the elite and aristocrats live in luxury. On the other hand, you cannot destroy culture and families and expect good to come about and there is no equality or creativity with the destruction of faith and individuality.
      On the other hand, I think the money was too good for his family to turn down and maybe he would not have, either. It also made people buy and read his book around the world,far moreso had the movie not have been made.
      Now, to get “Somewhere My Love” to stop playing in my head!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I’m afraid your discussion is way too cerebral for me. I didn’t read the book, but I did see the movie. Since I can’t remember much of it, I’m assuming it wasn’t something I enjoyed. But I loved the soundtrack.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. trishafaye says:

    I have to admit – I’ve never read the books, not saw the movie. If my TBR list wasn’t so massive, I’d probably check it out, just out of curiosity now. But… (looks over at the towering stack of books waiting for my attention) …nah, I’ll take your word for it.

    Liked by 2 people

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