Finished “Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak, my second Big Russian Novel. It was banned for decades in the Soviet Union for its portrayal of the nature of events during the Revolution, the NEP, and the Purges. Compared to the truly spectacular motion picture, the novel is much more detailed, with more characters and plots, more subtleties in each character, and several Dickensian coincidences. The motion picture, despite its length, is a streamlined love story leaving out most of what doesn’t directly pertain to Yuri and Larissa, his great love.
I thought both were worth the time, which is needed in abundance.
Notes to self:
- Big traumatic changes over decades support a long novel but the interesting stories are all in how people’s lives are changed and how they react. The bigger and more traumatic the changes, more effects and feelings can be explored. Russia in the first 70 years of the 20th century certainly provided a good backdrop for a novel. Others that come immediately to mind are China (e.g. “Colors of the Mountain” by Da Chen), Germany, Poland, and India. Mitchener’s examples notwithstanding, I don’t think the USA would be as good – not enough widespread death, destruction, and danger, even during the Dust Bowl. One might do something in the Southern USA though. Surely someone has, something like “To Kill a Mockingbird” but over decades. As for farther back in time, maybe during and for decades after a plague such as the Black Death in mid 1300s Europe would be good.
- An author can lay out arguments for a point they want to make through the transformation of a viewpoint character, as Yuri is transformed. He starts out so accepting and even optimistic but ends up a sceptic of big ideas. (Who could blame anyone in the Soviet Union who was a thinker and artist for becoming so?) Pasternak lays out his transformation in long conversations, descriptions of his change in appearance, his very actions, and passages of Yuri’s thoughts. I think his great decision at Varykino represents the beginning of his descent into the sad later years of his life.