Synopsis of "Doctor Zhivago"

by Bronwyn White

"Doctor Zhivago" is a Russian novel by Boris Pasternak. Completed in 1957, it narrates the life of Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and poet, who lived during the Russian Revolution and World War I. This tragic epic helped Pasternak win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1958. The Soviet Union opposed the book and Pasternak's Nobel win, and the book was not permitted in the Soviet bloc until 1988. It was made into a film in 1965.

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Dr. Yuri Zhivago's Childhood And Early Adult Life

Yuri Zhivago's mother dies in central Asia when he is 8 years old. He is adopted by his mother's wealthy friends, the Gromykos, and goes to live with the couple and their daughter Tonya in Moscow. Yuri trains as a physician and a poet, and prefers to experience life by interacting with patients rather than remaining in the laboratory. One night, Yuri watches from his balcony as the tsar's troops kill every member of a small socialist protest. He attempts to care for the demonstrators but is driven away by the soldiers.

Yuri and Lara Meet

Yuri is called to treat a woman who has attempted suicide. There he meets the woman's daughter, Lara. He becomes infatuated with her, but still follows through with his engagement to Tonya Gromykos. They have a son named Sasha. Lara becomes engaged to Pasha, a man with a strong belief in socialism and the Russian Revolution. They have a daughter named Katya. Once World War I breaks out, Yuri and Lara are stationed in the same area as medical personnel. They are very much in love, but suppress their feelings.

Yuri and Lara Separate

At the end of the war, Yuri and Lara separate. Lara goes looking for her husband Pasha, who has disappeared. Yuri returns to his wife and son in Moscow. He finds that the Bolsheviks have taken over, Mrs. Gromykos is dead, and his family's house is now holding 13 families. Yuri leads his family east, to a small town called Yuriatin, near their large estate. The estate has been commandeered by the Bolsheviks, so the family lives in a small gardener's cottage.

The Affair Begins

Yuri sees Lara again at the library in Yuriatin. She has been living in the town for over a year while searching for her husband. The two lovers rush into an affair. After a while, Yuri begins to feel very conflicted by his love for Lara and his duty to his wife. He goes to see Lara and break off the affair, but is captured on the way by the Bolsheviks and conscripted into their medical unit. A year later, he manages to escape and return to Lara. She nurses him back to health and gives him a letter from his wife. In it, Tonya states that she knows about the affair and has gone back to Moscow. She and their son are now being deported.

Their Days Are Numbered

Lara's old lover, Komarovsky, finds her and Yuri and tells them that Pasha is gone and Yuri is considered a deserter. He says their days are numbered and offers them transportation to the east. They decline, but Komarovsky visits them again and tells them of Pasha's arrest. He once again offers transportation, and they know they must accept in order to survive. Lara and Komarovsky board a train to the east, but Yuri misses it. Lara tells Komarovsky that she is pregnant with Yuri's child.

An Open Ending

Eight years later, Yuri's half brother, Yevgraf, finds him in Moscow. Yuri is in very poor health, but Yevgraf takes care of him and finds him a job. One day, while riding a street car, Yuri thinks he sees Lara and has a fatal heart attack while trying to get off the car. Yevgraf arranges for a memorial and a large crowd attends. Lara attends as well, after having disappeared into a labor camp in Siberia. She is looking for her daughter Tanya and asks Yevgraf for help, then disappears again. Years later, Yevgraf finds a young woman named Tanya who looks exactly like Yuri. He is convinced that she is Lara and Yuri's daughter and welcomes her into the family. She isn't sure, but promises to consider it. Yevgraf and Tanya part, leaving the ending open.

About the Author

Bronwyn White resides in New York and has been writing since 2006. She holds a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from the University of Texas at San Antonio and is currently pursuing a Master of Music in vocal performance and opera studies from the State University of New York-Purchase.

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