Dan Sandman

#29 Dr Zhivago

In Books, Fiction on 14/07/2017 at 12:00 pm

#29 Doctor ZhivagoDr Zhivago (1957) is said to be one of the novels against which all others are judged. It is one of those epic books that cover whole lifetimes, periods of history and different sections of society. Set in Russia, before, during and after the Second World War, it successfully marries the universality of a heartbreaking love story with the horrifying realities of war. Part of its success is due to the way in which Dr Zhivago lives his creative life as a poet whilst working as a doctor and falling in love. Prose is used to describe the world, dialogue is used to depict character and express ideas, but poetry gets to the core of the love story which is the heart of the tale.

Like Paul in All Quite on the Western Front (1929), Yuri is an educated man with a poetic sensibility whose life is up-heaved when war breaks out. In the case of both characters, their romantic sensibility struggles to comprehend the horror of modern warfare. Other characters point to religion as a passage back to a simpler life, but the wheels of mechanized power continue to enslave the masses towards the bloody battlefield. In war, as in love, the tragic condition of humanity can only be captured in poetic language. Novels merely reflect on history and make art out its complexities. In the middle of this sprawling maze we call life, Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) suggests that art is the one thing that we have to fight against death.

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