10 February, 2011

Happy Birthday Boris Pasternak

Without a doubt, Doctor Zhivago (До́ктор Жива́го) is one of the great novels, and certainly on of the most important pieces of contemporary Russian as well as 20th century works of literature today (first published in 1957). The novel is named after its protagonist, Yuri Zhivago, a physician (hence the "Doctor" bit...), romantic, and poet. Yuri's life is affected by the 1917 Russian Revolution, the subsequent Russian Civil War, as well as the great love of two different but equally remarkable women.

The story of Doctor Zhivago's publication is almost as dramatic and sweeping as the novel itself. Many are surprised to learn that although it contains passages written in the 1910s and 1920s, Doctor Zhivago was not actually completed until 1956.

The novel was then rejected by the Russian language literary magazine/journal Novy Mir (Новый Мир-- Russian for both New World and New Peace) which mainly published prose that approved of the general line of the Communist Party, because Pasternak's political viewpoint within the novel (as well as without) was opposed by the Soviet authorities. (The author, like Zhivago, showed more concern with the welfare of individuals than with the welfare of society).

Remarkably, in 1957, the Italian publisher (and, ironically, the rampant Communist!) Giangiacomo Feltrinelli smuggled the book manuscript out of the Soviet Union (thanks to the remarkable 20th century thinker Isaiah Berlin--please check him out!) and simultaneously published the very first editions (in both Russian and Italian) in Milan, Italy. Amazing. It was published in English (translated from Russian by Manya Harari and Max Hayward) the following year.

It was most likely the publication of Doctor Zhivago that was partly responsible for Pasternak being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, but the Soviet government requested that the Nobel committee not award him, which they refused to do. Pasternak was subsequently pressured by Soviet authorities to reject the Nobel Prize in order to prevent a scandal in the Soviet Union. Pasternak died on 30 May 1960.

Doctor Zhivago was finally, at long last, published in the Soviet Union in 1988.

Author Boris Pasternak was born today in 1890. He was most famous in Russia as a poet, and as the Russian translator of Goethe and Shakespeare. But it is the echos of his poignant novel Doctor Zhivago that continue to ring on so profoundly for me, and for many others the world over. Filled with his very own quiet wisdom, delicate prose, infinite feeling so affectingly observed without a trace of sentimentality but always with the very finest psychological accuracy mixed with poetry, Yuri Zhivago's tale is a universally human a story told so perfectly it is hard to imagine it almost never saw the light of day. It goes to prove the point that everything worth having in the world is worth fighting for.

Pasternak is a man who should be revered and celebrated the literate world over, and today and every day I applaud him. He is, without question, one of my greatest artistic and literary inspirations and I am grateful for him, for his revolutionizing of Russian poetry, for Yuri, Tonya and Lara.
I am glad he was born.
Happy Birthday Boris.

"And now listen carefully. You in others - this is your soul. This is what you are. This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life - your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory? This will be you - the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it. And now one last point. There is nothing to fear. There is no such thing as death. Death has nothing to do with us."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for giving the initials "B.P." a positive spin these days...

    I can always count on you, Atomic 13!




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