Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Forest Brotherhood

Much of the second half of the novel plays out during the civil war that ravaged Russia from 1918 to 1922.  Yury found himself a captive of Liberius Mikulitsin's Red Army faction, which was fighting against Kolchak's White Army.  Life was pretty miserable for Yury during this time, as Liberius' faction pretty much housed themselves in earth huts in the great Russian taiga, hoping to hold out against the advances of the White Army until reinforcements came.  Yury tended to the wounded as best he could given the limited supplies.  He had support from a Czech paramedic who had joined the Communists and a couple of other interns.

Pasternak uses these chapters to highlight the ravages of the civil war, noting the towns that were under siege, in particular Holycross.  All these towns along "The Highway" found themselves torn between the Red and White Armies, with split allegiances.  Many had been burned by one faction or the other, and morale among the armies was low as they came across the burnt-out remnants of their former villages.

Yet Liberius remained hopelessly optimistic.  The young commander, son of Mikulitsin who guarded the state, had chosen Yury to confide in.  Yury was unconvinced that any good will come out of this war, but as long as he found himself captive he had to pay deference to the commander.

Yury had twice tried to escape, only to be run down each time.  He had become ever more fatalistic in his views.  He was asked at one point to counsel an ailing soldier, one of Liberius' subordinate officers, who was suffering from "the creeps," a sense of morbid doom, which ultimately led him to butcher his family rather than have them fall victim to Kolchak's forces.

Yury was also forced to witness an execution of soldiers who had operated an illicit distillery, only to have the distillery rebuilt as to have alcohol for medicinal purposes.  Liberius himself had become addicted to cocaine, depleting Yury's much needed supply.

One can see how the Soviet censors wouldn't have been pleased at all with these passages, as Pasternak painted the revolutionary army in anything but heroic terms.  Instead, he painted a bleak portrait of chaos, confusion and ever diminishing morale until Kolchak's army is finally defeated and these red factions finally emerged from their forest hideouts.


  1. Gintaras, thanks for these beautiful posts. I finally received my book yesterday -- I think it had to come all the way from Russia. I'm sort of booked up as it were right now, but look forward to reading this as time allows.

  2. Thanks av. Will post two more posts on the remaining chapters. Not quite sure what to make of the poems. A bit odd to see them all placed at the end. Would have preferred to see at least some of them woven into his chapters at Varykino, where Zhivago penned them. Coming at the end, they come across as an Epitaph.