Doctor Zhivago is Pasternak’s last major work of prose fiction and represents a kind of summing up of all the beliefs that had survived with him through the fires of two revolutions, two world wars, a vicious civil war, the Sovietization of Russia, and Joseph Stalin’s oppression. He wrote the novel in part because he had survived when most of his fellow writers had not. In death they joined the perhaps forty million Soviet citizens killed in wars, famine, or concentration camps.
Pasternak’s main intent is to show the mass of interconnections tying the hero, Urij Zhivago, to the whole of Russia. The great number of characters brought on stage are all shown to be connected, however tangentially, to him. Family members, friends, and officials who decide his fate or that of his friends and family are all linked to Zhivago. Improbable coincidences bring characters together across vast spaces. This continues Pasternak’s lifelong tendency to examine in his writing the sometimes invisible links that make the world an organic whole. The novel is not explicitly political; it was seen as an affront to Soviet authoritarian ideology, with its cult of the Communist Party and its contempt for all other groups.
The names Pasternak gives his characters reflect their relationship to life itself: Zhivago (the living) recalls the gospel story of the resurrection: “Why seek thee the living among the dead?” His lover, Lara (from “laurel”),...
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