Doctor Zhivago – Pevear

Doctor Zhivago
1958 – translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in 2010
673 pages
Rating 9.5

I’m doing a second review on this book because I read both versions.  There’s not much difference – where Hayward would sometimes simplify things by using a phrase to describe a Russian word,  Pevear uses the word where he can get away with it.  Pevear’s translation might be more “accurate” but I think it lost something of the urgency one feels with the Hayward.   With Pevear it feels like a classic,  with Hayward it feels more like a fictionalized memoir –  it’s both.

Is Doctor Zhivago relevant today?   There was much about the Revolution and Civil War I really had a hard time following.  But maybe  if you stretch the point the themes can speak to us.   What is the individual when the Revolution takes over so completely that family communications are affected?  What happens to art or love – where is the authenticity in the “state program?”   I can only think that some religious fundamentalists with their slogans and “right thinking” could be compared.

So the book might be relevant in some ways,  but if you don’t quite follow who is a Red and  who is a White then it gets a bit rough in spots.  And this is certainly not just a love story – it’s the story about what happened to the Revolution,  the Bolshevik take-over, when they had to actually put theory into practice in the middle of a brutal Civil War.

The guilt Yuri feels would be,  I think, a universal attribute.  Lara’s confusion would be another aspect contemporary readers might identify with.

Fwiw,  I’ve never seen the movie – don’t want to.  (BUT I DID! – 7/14/2012) I understand that the love story took over –  I understand that.  The politics of the Russian Revolution and Civil War is pretty complex to say nothing of all the aesthetics and philosophy.

These are both very good translations – I personally kind of prefer the old Hayward version but … to each his own.

P.S. I have nothing but total admiration for the Pevear/ Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace.


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