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What I read in August (Part 2)

I mentioned in my post about The Anna Karenina Fix by Viv Groskop that I had been inspired to read more Russian literature. I found Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak on BorrowBox. The translation was by Richard Pavear and Larissa Volokhonsky, published by Vintage books. Having read Viv Groskop’s explanation of Russian names and their diminutives helped my understanding of this book.

I had seen the film decades ago, but missed the beginning and didn’t really understand much of it. It probably does not convey the breadth and depth of Boris Pasternak’s knowledge to the same extent as the book.

Dr Zhivago is a long, complicated story set in the early years of the 20th century, when Europe was in a state of turmoil with various wars and political unrest in many countries. The Russian revolution took place during the period covered by this novel.

The story of Dr Zhivago’s life is recounted with lots of beautifully described short scenes. The cultural background is brought into the story as Dr Zhivago is a well-read, talented writer as well as an extremely gifted medical doctor. Religious and superstitious traditions also play a part in the story. There are many quotations from and references to the Bible and the Russian Orthodox liturgy. Dr Zhivago’s beliefs are not stated. He seems to have been a pragmatic person, taking what life sent in his direction and ignoring convention at times.

The privations of this time of reorganisation made me wonder about our own time with the pandemic, migrants, overstretched-health services and widespread discontent with the government in more than one country.

The book had many superscripts referring to notes. In the ebook these were not links, so I was unable to look them up conveniently as I read. Dr Zhivago’s poems were also referred to in the narrative and appeared at the end before the notes. If I find a printed copy I may well read this again as there was much I didn’t fully understand due to my unfamiliarity with the history of, for example, the Russian civil war. It took me over 3 weeks to read (having read The widow’s secret after starting Dr Zhivago) even with extra reading time due to the weather being too hot to go out for walks.

What I read in July 2020 (Part 2)

I have only read one more book this month. While browsing the available ebooks from BorrowBox I found The Anna Karenina Fix by Viv Groskop. The bright cover and endorsements on it enticed me to borrow it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only other book I have read which intersperses the author’s life experiences with information about books is Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: a memoir of childhood reading.

Viv Groskop’s memories start at the time she decided to study Russian. She is trying to solve a personal mystery, which she weaves into the discussion of books. Her book is written for a general readership, but those with additional knowledge of Russian language and/or literature may enjoy it more. I studied Russian to O-level and years ago I read (in translation) at least two of the books she featured. The author finds parallels in her own life with the content of each book she mentions. Although I dislike reading ebooks, I found this fascinating, entertaining and informative. It has inspired me to borrow another ebook, this time one of the books she wrote about. (I have to wait another 2 weeks for library to reopen!)