Friday, May 26, 2017

Doctor Zhivago

Vogue December 2016
Russia has been in the news a lot of late. And I'm not so sure that we should be so surprised given the storied history of a place that is expansive, cold, and snowy in my imagination of it. One of the sources for the romantic idea that I have of Russia is from the film Doctor Zhivago. Every year, on a cold winter's night, I find this film to watch, for it's beauty, idealism, and romance. This cannot, of course, erase the hard truths of  Stalin, the Ukrainian Genocide, and now Putin to name just a few of the hard line problems of what has held Russia in a lock for centuries. And as it turns out, Boris Pasternak, the novel's author, and his beloved Olga fell into the bear's trap. And as Pussy Riot will tell you (the all-girl punk rock band who performed songs against Putin publicly and sentenced to 2 years of hard labor), for the crime, women carry the burden of the punishment.

Although twenty years older than Olga, it was an immediate attraction between she and Boris. Just having starting to write the novel that would become Doctor Zhivago, their love affair certainly influenced the expanse of the romance of Zhivago and Lara, the novel's lovers. The book isn't only about ill-fated love, it also addresses the sweep of political change during the turbulent early 20th Century in Russian history. And for that, the author was closely watched to determine how closely fiction was written as a mirror of the times (from the article): "In his writing life, the sense of pressure mounting on Boris was heightened by egregious  oppression and political forces. He was under constant surveillance due to the anti-Soviet nature of his work, while contemporaries who were not seen to serve the interests of the new Soviet system executed, exiled, or tortured."

And Olga? She met with the same sexist bias that Putin threw at Pussy Riot: "Little did Olga know that due to widespread knowledge of her affair with Boris, and her unflinching support of his book, it was not Boris who would be "hung, drawn, and quartered" but she herself who would shortly receive unwelcome visitors. On the the evening of October 6, 1949, the secret police arrived at Olg'a home with summons that held terrifying ramifications. The authorities had hatched a plan that would strike right to the heart of the "cloud-dweller." They would send his mistress and muse to a prison camp, and torture her instead."

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