Welcome to another month of Book Club Classics! If you haven’t read yesterday’s post about Boris Pasternak and the historical context significant to August’s book club pick, I am imploring you to take a peek at it. It really will make such a different to have a little knowledge about the time period and the political parties of the time.
Oh, and if you’re new to the club, thanks for stopping by! You can read all about it, and our books for the year are listed below!
2015 Book Club Classics List
January – Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (January 28) My review here
February – A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (February 25) My review here
March – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (March 25) My review here
April – Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (April 29) My review here
May – The Awakening by Kate Chopin (May 20) My review here
June – The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (June 24) My review here
July – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (July 31) My review here
August – Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (August 28)
September – Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (September 30)
October – Dracula by Bram Stoker (October 28)
November – Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney (November 18)
December – The Chimes by Charles Dickens (December 16)
Now, who’s ready to discuss the most recent of all of the novels on our book club list for the year? Get ready for some Russian history (and spoilers!) below.
If I learned one thing from Doctor Zhivago, it’s that I really didn’t learn much about Russia and its political history in high school. I feel like we always sort of skimmed over it (remnants from Cold War American sentiment?), and I feel like what I do know about early twentieth-century Russian history comes from books and movies about Grand Duchess Anastasia. Now that I’ve done some digging into the history and culture of the time, I have a better understanding of this novel, but I still feel like a rereading of this book is in my future.
Pasternak is a little long-winded at times, and he loves switching up the narrator at seemingly random moments, but man, can he set a scene. Even with my little knowledge of the period, I had vivid pictures in my mind from his exposition, and I was amazed by his ability to capture a certain feeling and pass it along to his reader. Once I became accustomed to the different formal names and nicknames used in Russian society, it was easier to follow along and realize that, yes, these characters are actually crossing paths over and over throughout their lives.
Due to the large number of main characters and the breaks in time, I don’t think this novel would count as a bildungsroman, but I will say that it was helpful to me that we get to see Yuri, Lara, and Tonia grow from children to adults, and interestingly, it helped me recognize Russia as a character as well. Seeing how the country changes dramatically and frequently during Yuri’s lifetime enhanced my understanding of how and why the characters became who they are by the end of the story.
A great romance of the twentieth century?
When I first told my mom that Doctor Zhivago was August’s read for book club, she got a little giddy remembering the incredibly romantic film adaptation starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting a novel with quite so many extramarital affairs or the kind of ending that we get. Now I do understand the whole wartime climate, and the idea that “life is fleeting, so let’s try to enjoy it when we can,” but I have to say that the entire thing was ruined by Yuri’s behavior at the end of the novel. Instead of going after his wife and children exiled in Paris, he chooses to stay in Russia and doesn’t even write to let them know that he’s alive. When Lara has the opportunity to escape with her daughter, he tricks her into leaving with a man who he doesn’t even like (and who probably assisted his father’s suicide), and he never even says goodbye. If these actions aren’t bad enough, when he finally returns to Moscow, he begins yet another affair, has two children with this woman, and then virtually abandons them to live alone. Say what?
If anything, I think the romance was between Yuri and Russia. Or maybe it was Yuri and his writing. I just don’t get the idea of this novel as a romance; unless, of course, I’m way off base, and we’re talking about a literary romance. I could probably get behind that definition.
Pasternak’s portrayal of Russia
I know that I went into this idea earlier, but Pasternak is a master at setting a scene. By the end of the novel, I felt like I had taken a tour of Russia — from the city, to the countryside, to the battlefields. His exposition is so viscerally descriptive that I never had a problem latching onto an image or feeling and letting it carry me through Yuri’s narration. He doesn’t skimp on the details about wounded soldiers, the lack of food and resources for the everyday person, and the necessity of toeing a fine line between political ideologies of the period. Twentieth-century Russia was a stressful time, and I felt every bit of it while reading Doctor Zhivago.
The meta novel
As someone who likes to consider herself a writer of sorts, I have to say that some of my favorite moments are when Pasternak gets particularly meta. When a writer writes a writer character, there are bound to be a few instances of writing about writing, and I ate them up. Even going beyond the fact that there are a series of poems added to the end of the novel, I just enjoyed Yuri’s insecurities about writing, his need to spend sleepless nights with pen and paper, his belief in his poetry as an appropriate way to hold on to Lara and their love. (Sarah included a great quote from the novel in her review that basically sums up this entire idea!)
Are we friends on Goodreads yet? (The only correct answer to that question is yes!) Since you obviously are, you already know that I gave Doctor Zhivago three out of five stars.
Now, on to the linkup! If you wrote your own post about Doctor Zhivago or if you want to link up a post about another classic, use the InLinkz button below, so we can check out your thoughts! Don’t forget to include a link to this post in your page or even slap this button onto it and help spread the word.
Next month we’ll be reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover in conjunction with Banned Books Week. It should be pretty steamy, so I hope you’ll join us back here to discuss why it was banned and how important our freedom to read, write, and speak what we want really is.