This is one of those books that I’ve thought about reading for years, but never picked up. I’ve never seen the Omar Sharif / Julie Christie movie and although I have a recent TV miniseries version on tape, I’ve delayed watching it till I read the book. After all, we all know the book is always better. When I first learned about the Russian Reading Challenge, this is the first book I put on my list.
Although not as long as I’d always thought it was, it was still a big sweeping saga. Typical of a big Russian novel, there are almost as many characters as pages and most of them are referred to by several names and nicknames throughout the book. I read the first 50 or so pages twice just to make sure I was clear on who was who and the relationships up to that point. It got easier, but is never a quick reading story.
It’s the perfect time of year to read this – the cold weather outside just fits the atmosphere throughout the book. The writing is wonderful – even in translation the images and descriptions are vivid and wonderfully told. The contrast between the scenes that are described in detail to the quick glossing over major events and time periods makes it seem like more of a series of separate events than one linear story. The way Zhivago, Lara and the other main characters meet, separate, meet again; only to be separated once more gives a sense of them being caught up in larger events and circumstances beyond their control.
The story begins before the broad societal and governmental transformations and turmoil that World War I, The Russian Revolution and Civil War brought to all the citizens of Russia. No class was spared hardship and loss. The personal and philosophical impact is so wonderfully depicted.
This book has it all – love, loss, war, emotional and political upheaval, wonderful writing, a complex story and one well worth reading.