Monday, December 6, 2010

The Five O'Clock Express and A Girl From a Different Circle

Interesting how Pasternak tells his tale of Yury and Lara in parallel episodes, keeping Yury pretty much above the seismic shifts taking place in Russia, while Lara finds herself at street level.  Pasternak opens with a boyhood tale of Yury that was a lot like Chekhov's The Steppe, with young Yury being taken through the countryside on a troika with his uncle and a local priest, after the young boy lost his mother.  This idyllic reverie is broken by the fateful news that someone has committed suicide by throwing himself off a train.  Unknown to Yury this is his father.  Pasternak also uses the scene to introduce the young Misha Gordon, who would become Yury's lifelong friend, and the contemptible Komarovsky, a lawyer who had apparently aided Yury's father in making his jump.

Komarovsky is portrayed essentially as a snake in the grass, tangentially bringing ruin on Yury, although the young boy had no contact with his father, and despoiling young Lara in the succeeding chapter.  The man entangles himself into many lives, but with Yury and Lara he proves to be an intractable part of their lives.  Pasternak gives Lara much more attention.  She too comes from a broken family.  Left with her mother and brother to struggle in the seamy streets of Moscow.   Unlike Yury who has a soft landing in the Gromeko household, Lara is forced to make due with her overbearing mother and a conniving Komarovsky who takes full advantage of her lowly position.  At the close of the chapter, Yury and Lara first cast eyes upon each other in the Montenegro Hotel during the 1905 strikes, which resulted in Lara's mother trying to kill herself by swallowing iodine after seeking refuge in the hotel.

There is a serialized feeling to the first two parts, which continues into the third part. Pasternak seems content to play out his parallel stories through a series of episodes.  Lara meets Pasha Antipov through whom we get a street level view of the strikes.  Yury's uncle becomes a successful writer, trying to give the events some sense of perspective.

There is a clunky feeling to the narrative, made even moreso by what appears to be an awkward translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky.  I found myself going back to the 1958 translation by Hayward and Harari, which is indeed much easier to read.  I suppose the PV edition is closer to the original but at times it reads like a word for word "google translation" with jumbled syntax.  The HH edition is more polished, even if it may compromise some of the translation, and left out some passages due to publishing time constraints, as Ann Pasternak Slater noted in her review.

More impressive to me is how Richard Bolt (1965) and Yuri Arabov (2006) managed to turn this novel into a screenplay.  There really isn't much in the way of dialog in the early going.  Yet, Arabov in the 2006 Russian mini-series gave a much fuller sense of those early chapters by filling out the characters of Alexandr Gromeko and his daughter Tonya, as well as create a very compelling villain in Komarovsky in his relationship with Lara and her mother.

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