Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Bitter Farewell

Zhivago eventually finds his way back to Moscow after another long trek, bringing a teenage boy along with him who had escaped from the labor gang on the train headed to Yuriatin several chapters before.  Interesting how Pasternak likes to bring these characters back into the story.  But, their relationship eventually sours as the boy grows and develops a mind of his own, detaching himself from the cynical Zhivago who seems content to live a low life much to the chagrin of those around him.

In time he even finds another woman, although the young woman is there mostly to serve him, and he fathers more children by her.  Just when it seems Yury has the opportunity  to return to his beloved medical profession he dies.  By chance Lara has returned to Moscow and learns of Yury's death and attends his memorial.  It is an odd gathering of new and old friends, most not really knowing each other.  But, everyone is curious in the lovely Lara.

Not content to end the story here, Pasternak jumps forward to WWII, and it is here that Yury's old friend Misha comes across a young woman who turns out to be Yury's daughter by Lara.  Seems Lara died a short while after Yury died, and young "Tonya" relates the sad story to Misha.  The young woman appears to have little trace of nobility but Yury's enigmatic brother has apparently promised to send her to school after the war, hoping to restore some semblance of the family legacy.

This rather dyspeptic view seems to reflect Pasternak's own disillusionment with the course Communism had taken in Russia.  He chooses to close out the novel with a set of poems that Zhivago had penned at Varykino, and had managed to survive all these travels, thanks in large part to the young boy who had helped get them published in Moscow, along with some of Yury's insights into medicine.


Hard to draw too many conclusions from this novel.  In many ways, it seemed to me more a "work in progress" than a complete work like those of Tolstoy.  I think its impact on readers was largely due to the notoriety the book had at the time, and the romantic film that David Lean made in 1965.  I think readers today would be perplexed to find that the great love between Yury and Lara occupies so few pages in this novel.  That it is really more about Russia and the state of vast turmoil it found itself in following WWI.  Yury Zhivago is a "pilgrim" in his own strange way, trying to sort out this troubled landscape as he wanders from one end of Russia to the other and back again.

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