Russian writer Boris Pasternak was born in Moscow in 1890 and died in 1960. He is recognized as one of the great poets and novelists of his country. He lived through the debacle of the First World War that so affected soldiers and citizens, the turbulence and social disorder of the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as the era of communist terror of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953).
Pasternak was born into a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Big celebrities paraded through his house since his parents were artists. Just to remember a few, such as the famous musician, Sergei Rachmaninoff, the genius of Russian Literature, Leo Tolstoy (author of “War and Peace”, “Ana Karenina”, among other works) or the admired poet Rainer Maria Rilke and some others more.
In 1914 he published his first collection of poems. His work is loaded with an intense lyricism full of experiences and endowed with deep reflections that were like a reflection of his personal redemption that provided him with new discoveries of his inner light. “I would like to get to everything / even the very essence: / I would like through my doubts / to get to the heart of the drama. (…) / I will live, I will think, I will feel, I will love / all the time taking the threads / of destinies and beings / to find new / discoveries”.
His main poetic works are: “My sister life” (1917), “The year 1905” (1927), “The second birth” (1934). He felt a lively passion for music, for philosophical doctrines and for the experiences of Western poetry. He was a translator of the work of Bertolt Brecht and William Shakespeare.
In Italy, in 1957, his novel “Doctor Zhivago” was published. This literary work caused enormous indignation in the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin. And he was soon accused of writing “only slander” and of being a “noxious insect” and “traitor to the fatherland.”
What is the plot of this novel? It reveals the brutal and heinous world of the Stalinist era. In the midst of what seems to be only a love drama between Doctor Zhivago and his lover Lara (Larisa Antipova), he communicates to the reader the historical background—of injustice and cruelty—of a totalitarian system that fills his homeland with silent pain. That is to say, it is a metaphor for the despair and discouragement of Russia itself. From a humiliated and offended Russia, unable to defend itself. “Doctor Zhivago’s characters —says the critic Slonim— are victims rather than executioners”.
The result was that this novel had a great international echo and was very well received by Western European literary critics. The following year, in 1958, Pasternak received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
He was immediately expelled from the National Union of Writers. Pasternak wrote to the Swedish Academy to let them know that he was grateful and surprised by such an award. A few days later, the authorities force them to write another letter to the same Swedish Academy in which they give the following explanation: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I must reject this undeserved prize that has been awarded to me, taking taking into account the society to which I belong”.
After this painful event, these verses by the poet are revealing: “I fell like a fair in the middle / of the hunt. / Somewhere there are men, / world and freedom. / But they chase me, / there is no way out. It is chained / the movement (…) / and so -very close to the grave- / my faith is this: the day will come / when the spirit of / goodness will oppose brute force / and evil”.
At the bottom of all his poems, in the face of pain and tragedy, love always arises, as a purifying element, which fills the poet with peace and joy: “Love is always with me. / Dance, laugh, tear through the darkness, / run like the most poetic / epigraphs…”.
In “Winter Night”, from Yuri Zhivago’s lyrical notebook, the most intimate metaphor of the spiritual biography of this poet appears, who throughout his life suffered “inner exile” when he wrote: “A candle burned on the table, / a candle burned silently.”
In this famous novel, Boris Pasternak tried – like other great writers of his homeland – to give his own vision of the Russian totality in an exceptionally restless, rebellious and cruel time. He confronts two historical realities: the character of Sonia, who represents the abandoned traditional order, and Lara, who is the hope —later disappointed— of the Revolution.
With the political, economic and social changes promoted under the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1985, with the so-called “Perestroika”, a reform based on the restructuring of the economic system, and “Glassnot”, which sought greater transparency and democratization in the USSR, the novel “Doctor Zhivago” was published in Russian in 1988. It has been cataloged as the great novel of the Russian Revolution and translated into numerous languages.
In 1965, the film of this novel was released, starring the actors Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and directed by David Lean. He received the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, for Best Photography and other international awards.
In short, Boris Pasternak was rehabilitated as a writer in his homeland and has been recognized as one of the great lights of Universal Literature.
Degree in Hispanic Language and Literature from UNAM and Master in Communication from the University of Navarra.
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Raúl Espinoza Aguilera: Pasternak, the great dissident