This book could be War and Peace circa 1917 except that there’s not much peace in it – maybe the first 25 pages. It could be called War and People instead. And it’s not really historical fiction in that Pasternak didn’t have to do any research – he lived it. But it is historical literature because it’s well over 50 years old now – of a time gone by. That said, it’s quite accurate historically. Pasternak met Trotsky and Stalin and others in the Bolshevik regime.
Yes, it’s a love story but it’s way, way more than that. The love story of Lara and Yuri almost gets lost in the war – and that’s the point. People got lost in the Russian Revolution and the following Civil War. Their identities got lost in the jargon, their status got lost in the changing of sides.
The book starts in about 1905 and ends in the 1950s. That period shows the protagonists, Yuri Zhivago, his wife Tonya, his friend Pasha and his love, Lara, brought together over and over only to be split again. The book shows the horrors of war both physical and emotional, the pattern of destruction and increasing tyranny, the fear and the loss.
Is it a political book? Yes and no. Yes in that the lives of the characters are so intimately involved with the changing and all-encompassing politics of the day, but no in that Yuri doesn’t like either side.
The book is about art and love and families in times of war and tyranny – about beauty and ugliness, both.