Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1957)

30 December 2011

Half way through reading Dr Zhivago in the Hayward and Harari translation (1958), in a lovely yellow-spined old Flamingo imprint. (Ann Pasternak Slater wrote a Guardian article comparing this translation with the newer one by Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear).

  1. DZ is divided into short numbered sections, often only a page long, like snapshots. In fact it could be compared to a photo album, a collection of key moments in the lives of the protagonists.
  2. There are more protagonists than in the film, and their relationships are more complex. It fills me with admiration for the screenwriter, Robert Bolt, who reduced the complex novel to the essential elements of the love story and brought its disparate elements into balance.
  3. I’m dismayed by the casual violence the characters display. Whether it’s the children fighting in the lily pond, or the iron master beating his apprentice, or Komarovsky beating his dog, a high level of verbal and physical violence seemed to be acceptable at all levels of the Russian society that Pasternak portrays. In tandem, there is little or no humour, no understatement or irony. People seem to tell each other exactly what’s on their minds and it’s always primal and immediate. There’s no detachment. The anger, verbal aggression and low-level violence of the pre-revolution prepares you and, arguably, prepared the Russian people, for the sickening violence of the revolution and civil war.
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