Doctor Zhivago, my old friend

This is the new edition of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and given to me by my dear friend A for my birthday.  It’s kind of absurd how happy this makes me. I haven’t read this book since I was a sophomore in college, and it’s quite possible that it stands taller in my memory than perhaps is really warranted. I’ll find out soon enough. But it lit up my heart back then.  I was learning Russian and I was in love with everything about the country. I loved the sound of its language, I loved its frosty mythology, I loved the way it exalted its great writers like perhaps no other country on earth. I had a book called A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union (long since lost, but which I think I will order again), which I would peruse for hours on end, enchanted by everything from winterlocked shots of Red Square to the volcanic regions of Kamchatka. It was exotic, strange, and — locked behind the Iron Curtain as it was — irresistibly forbidden.

Doctor Zhivago struck just the right note for me. Romantic, tragic, political, and epic in scope, it burned in my imagination for years. I can’t think of it without hearing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2, which to me will always be the sound of Russia. Perhaps if I was a better man it would be Dostoevsky or Chekhov that loomed largest in my apprehension of Russian literature — and indeed I love them both, though neither as much as Tolstoy. But it is Pasternak that gave me the greatest pleasure, and it is Pasternak I return to now with eagerness and love.

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