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Doctor Zhivago

Cover of Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago

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    Part One

    The Five O'Clock Express

    1

    They walked and walked and sang "Memory Eternal,"1 and when they stopped, it seemed that the song went on being repeated by their feet, the horses, the gusts of wind.

    Passers-by made way for the cortège, counted the wreaths, crossed themselves. The curious joined the procession, asked: "Who's being buried?" "Zhivago," came the answer. "So that's it. Now I see." "Not him. Her." "It's all the same. God rest her soul. A rich funeral."

    The last minutes flashed by, numbered, irrevocable. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world, and those that dwell therein." The priest, tracing a cross, threw a handful of earth onto Marya Nikolaevna. They sang "With the souls of the righteous." A terrible bustle began. The coffin was closed, nailed shut, lowered in. A rain of clods drummed down as four shovels hastily filled the grave. Over it a small mound rose. A ten-year-old boy climbed onto it.

    Only in the state of torpor and insensibility that usually comes at the end of a big funeral could it have seemed that the boy wanted to speak over his mother's grave.

    He raised his head and looked around from that height at the autumn wastes and the domes of the monastery with an absent gaze. His snub-nosed face became distorted. His neck stretched out. If a wolf cub had raised his head with such a movement, it would have been clear that he was about to howl. Covering his face with his hands, the boy burst into sobs. A cloud flying towards him began to lash his hands and face with the wet whips of a cold downpour. A man in black, with narrow, tight-fitting, gathered sleeves, approached the grave. This was the deceased woman's brother and the weeping boy's uncle, Nikolai Nikolaevich Vedenyapin, a priest defrocked at his own request. He went up to the boy and led him out of the cemetery.

    2

    They spent the night in one of the monastery guest rooms, allotted to the uncle as an old acquaintance. It was the eve of the Protection.2 The next day he and his uncle were to go far to the south, to one of the provincial capitals on the Volga, where Father Nikolai worked for a publisher who brought out a local progressive newspaper. The train tickets had been bought, the luggage was tied up and standing in the cell. From the nearby station the wind carried the plaintive whistling of engines maneuvering in the distance.

    Towards evening it turned very cold. The two ground-floor windows gave onto the corner of an unsightly kitchen garden surrounded by yellow acacia bushes, onto the frozen puddles of the road going past, and onto the end of the cemetery where Marya Nikolaevna had been buried that afternoon. The kitchen garden was empty, except for a few moiré patches of cabbage, blue from the cold. When the wind gusted, the leafless acacia bushes thrashed about as if possessed and flattened themselves to the road.

    During the night Yura was awakened by a tapping at the window. The dark cell was supernaturally lit up by a fluttering white light. In just his nightshirt, Yura ran to the window and pressed his face to the cold glass.

    Beyond the window there was no road, no cemetery, no kitchen garden. A blizzard was raging outside, the air was smoky with snow. One might have thought the storm noticed Yura and, knowing how frightening it was, reveled in the impression it made on him. It whistled and howled and tried in every way possible to attract Yura's attention. From the sky endless skeins of white cloth, turn after turn, fell on the earth, covering it in a winding sheet. The blizzard was alone in the world,...

Reviews-
  • from the Introduction by John Bayley

    "The best way to understand Pasternak's achievement in Doctor Zhivago is to see it in terms of this great Russian literary tradition, as a fairy tale, not so much of good and evil as of opposing forces and needs in human destiny and history that can never be reconciled . . . [Zhivago is] a figure who embodies the principle of life itself, the principle that contradicts every abstraction of revolutionary politics."

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Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak
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