Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Собирать гардероб пришел Дворник Маркел. Он привел с собой шестилетнюю дочь Маринку. Маринке дали палочку ячменного сахара. Маринка засопела носом и, облизывая леденец и заслюнявленные пальчики, насупленно смотрела на отцову работу.The yard porter Markel came to put the wardrobe together. He brought along his six-year-old daughter Marinka. Marinka was given a stick of barley sugar. Marinka snuffed her nose and, licking the candy and her slobbery fingers, watched frowningly as her father worked.
translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari

I first read this at least 35 years ago, possibly longer, and my copy still smells of the mildewy second-hand bookshop where I got it, probably in Cambridge. It’s a great book. There’s a wonderful human story in the transition from the fading empire to the brutality of the Communist regime, with people clinging to what crumbs of comfort they can, especially each other.

Although the title of the book is Doctor Zhivago, it’s just as much Lara’s story; she’s there at the beginning and the end, and has a more complicated life, with the climax of the story coming when three of her lovers end up in the same place at almost the same time. A lot of her story is unstated – for instance, when she is first seduced by Komarovsky, it happens entirely off screen, where most writers today would go into explicit erotic detail about the encounter. But we know perfectly well what has happened.

There is also a tremendous sense of place. Moscow, the steppes, the fictional towns that Yuri and Lara end up living in, are all vividly described, and although if you’re not used to Russian nomenclature you can get lost among the characters (most of whom have at least three completely different modes of address), you can’t get lost among the locations.

I haven’t seen the film (which lost the Best Oscar to The Sound of Music, though it won just as many awards on the night), and given that it’s three hours long, I am a little intimidated; but I really enjoyed revisiting the book after a third of a century. You can get it here.

This was the top book on my shelves that I had previously read but not reviewed here, and is not by Terry Pratchett. Next on that pile is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.