There’s more to Boris Pasternak than Dr Zhivago!

Who hasn’t heard of Dr Zhivago? Whether you’ve seen the film or read the book, you’ll know that Boris Pasternak was one of Russia’s greatest writers from the last century. But there’s more to Pasternak than this one single great literary work…

Photo: Materialscientist, Wikimedia Commons

  • Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was born on 10 February 1890 in Moscow.
  • His father was an artist and professor, his mother a concert pianist.
  • He initially decided to become a composer, but eventually abandoned music to study philosophy in Germany.
  • He emerged during the 1910s and 1920s as a poet with modernist leanings, publishing works like the poetry collection My Sister – Life: one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language.
  • In the 1930s he adopted simpler, more direct language and a greater social focus. His works also address the existential: nature, life, humanity and love. This is true of his acclaimed work Doctor Zhivago, which is set in the period from the socialist revolution of 1905 to World War II.
  • He returned to Moscow and in 1936 moved into his dacha in Peredelkino, south-west of Moscow.
  • He also translated a range of stage plays by Goethe, Schiller, Calderón de la Barca and Shakespeare, which remain very popular with Russian audiences to this day.
  • He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 ‘for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition’. Originally, he accepted the award, but was later caused by the authorities in his country to turn it down (the Soviet authorities had banned Doctor Zhivago, which was smuggled to Milan and published in 1957, and distributed with the help of the CIA in the rest of Europe).
  • Despite agreeing to turn down the award, he was still threatened with exile to the West.
  • His descendants would later accept the award in his name in 1988.
  • Pasternak died on 30 May 1960 in Peredelkino.