Doctor Zhivago

“A novel (1957) by the Russian writer Boris Pasternak (1890-1960). Set against the background of the Russian Revolution and the ensuing civil war, it tells the story of poet and physician Yuri Zhivago, whose love for the beautiful Lara causes pain for all involved. In Russian, zhivago means ‘the living’, and the word has strong religious connotations: the Russian version of ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead’ (the question the angels ask the women who come to see Christ’s tomb in the Gospel of St. Luke) is ‘Chto vy ischyote zhivago mezhdu myortvykh?’ In addition, Yuri is the Russian version of George–the dragon-slaying saint.

The book brought Pasternak himself little happiness. Following his award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was pilloried by literary rivals, who accused him of plagiarizing other works, and his companion Olga Ivinskaya, on whom Lara was based, was thrown into prison by the Soviets. The first Russian publication of the novel did not take place until 1987.

David Lean’s epic film version (1965) lasts over 190 minutes, and stars Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Julie Christie as Lara. Maurice Jarre’s haunting ‘Lara’s Theme’, played on the balalaika, has become a favorite in all places where muzak is played.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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