It was back in the Autumn that I heard Anna Pasternak give a talk on her new book, Lara. A very passionate account which left many in the audience in tears.
Anna Pasternak has lived locally in a cottage in the grounds of the beautiful 18th century Fawley Court on the edge of the River Thames. It was here, over the past 10 years that Anna wrote Lara.
Anna admits that when she first started to explore the life of her Great Uncle, Boris Pasternak, she was quite prepared to dislike and be critical of him. She in fact discovered a warmth and respect. For her research she was able to interview her grandmother Josephine, and other members of Boris’s family.
Boris Pasternak was first known for his poetry but he felt his life would not be complete until he wrote an epic novel. So it was in 1935 that Dr Zhivago began to emerge in his mind. It developed into a sentimental love story set between the Russian Revolution and the Second World War. In 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature but it was only in 1988 that it was published in Russia.
Dr Zhivago was based on his own true love story. Boris was on his second marriage to Zinaida, having divorced his first wife, when he met Olga Ivinskaya. She was a twice widowed editor and already had a son and daughter. He was 56 years old and she was 34 years. Boris became very close to Olga’s daughter, Irina, and Anna was able to interview her for the book. The attraction between Olga and Boris was immediate and mutual.
Boris never divorced Zinaida and, by not giving Olga the Pasternak surname, he put her life in danger.
In 1924 Stalin came into power. Although Stalin saw Boris as a dissident like so many Russian writers, he decided to protect him as he admired his poetry. Instead it was Olga the State went after.
Olga was despised by the Pasternak family and even when he was dying she was unable to visit him. Her loyalty knew no bounds. She was sent twice to prison in Siberia, once during the writing of Dr Zhivago and once after his death.
Olga never wavered or gave in to the terrible interrogation she was subjected to. She even miscarried Boris’s baby while there.
Boris does come over as self-centered and weak in many ways but he had huge strength in getting his book published despite the barriers and threats he encountered from the state. Weak in his personal life in regard to the way he was unable to divorce his wife for Olga. Olga put up with all his mood swings not always with good grace but who can blame her?
I have always loved the film Dr Zhivago, helped of course by the handsome Omar Sharif and the beautiful Julie Christie.
Boris and Olga’s relationship may not have had the ‘wow factor’ but Anna Pasternak has depicted an amazing love story with Olga as the true heroine.