Dr. Zhivago

Dr. Zhivago

Life under Communism

If you read my last post for the Foreign Book Club, then you know that I love Dostoevsky. There is a psychology, a raw-realness, and an unflinchingly penetrative analysis of the human condition in his writing that really appeals to me.

This can be said for a lot of the Russian greats. Why? I really don’t know, although I’m sure that countless university essays have been written that try to answer this. Personally I wouldn’t mind traveling to Russia and finding out for myself.

One of the (relatively) more modern classics of Russian literature is Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. It was made into a movie. Maybe, like me, you have always heard the name but didn’t have any idea what it was about. I think I had a strange image of a James Bond type story.

Doctor Zhivago is anything but that. It’s a love story, an adventure, and a psychological analysis, like much of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and all the other Russian greats. But what I think is even more interesting is the description of what happened to Russian society after the revolution. We all grow up hearing about communism, but I think many of us don’t really know what it means. I’m sorry to say that, at the risk of unfairly generalizing, I have to include most US and Canadian student communists in this assumption.

First of all, private economic transactions are outlawed. That means no money, no stores, and no restaurants. So, how do you buy food? Interesting question. Obviously being corrupt and having powerful corrupt friends is a pretty effective way.

I have to say that the ending of the book, which I won’t ruin for you, uses one of the most beautiful metaphors I have ever read in literature. It will lose its impact if I describe to you now, if you haven’t read the book yet, but it was Zhivago looking out the window of a tram at an elderly woman walking down the street with her cane. If you’ve read this book, please tell me what you thought of those stunning final pages.