BORIS PASTERNAK

HEROES & VILLAINS

"Survival without renunciation of any part of one's moral world - apart from powerful and direct interventions by fortune - was conceded to a very few superior individuals, made of the stuff of martyrs and saints," wrote Primo Levi of Auschwitz. Stalinist Russia was a parallel world to Auschwitz. "No one who has not lived in the Stalin era can appreciate the horror," said Olga Freidenberg, Boris Pasternak's cousin and close friend. Boris Pasternak was a writer in the Stalinist era and, like his cousin, survived it - though she just briefly - and brought out of it poetry, translations, and his novel Doctor Zhivago.

After 1936, he believed, as Samuel Beckett said of himself: "Success and failure on the public level never mattered much to me."

Doctor Zhivago is about the force of inner logic which Boris Pasternak believed in, the connections, the capillaries, which solder together different lives and destinies. His logic survives him like the candle he so often wrote about.

Doctor Zhivago was virtually the first serious book I read after Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, the William books. I was still wearing a coolie- type coat. I got the book from Ballinasloe library, which smelt of paraffin and carbolic soap. Jacqueline Kennedy was the person most frequently referred to here. The writers I found at this time have never been surpassed for me: DH Lawrence, F Scott Fitgerald, Katherine Mansfield, Carson McCullers, Boris Pasternak (although some have joined them, like Malcolm Lowry or Virginia Woolf or Nadezhda Mandelstam).

I had a friend then who used to wear a flamingo scarf, have a lilac scent, whom I used to meet on a red bench on the prom. She shared my love of Pasternak. We underlined his poems together. In a town which, despite the melli- fluousness of the library, seemed oppressive, Pasternak helped give the option of inner faith.

Boris Pasternak was born in Moscow on 10 February 1890 (29 January in the old Russian calender). His father was a painter and his mother a pianist. He attended university in Marburg. Early portraits by his father capture the androgynous face, protuberant eyes, almost Mongol mouth, the Cyrillic contortions in the face, the cheekbones that startle, the skirmished crest of hair, the indrawn body in its favourite clothes.

Between 1914 and 1923, Pasternak published four collections of poetry, accruing in Europe what Rilke called "a youthful fame". In 1922, he married the painter Evgeniia Vladimirovna, having a son by her. Olga Freidenberg watched the disintegration of the marriage: "He was used to the Tolstoyan standard: a daily life based on lofty ideas and family life such as that depicted in War and Peace. Zhenya offered him a Bohemian life." In 1931, they parted. He married Zinaida Nikolaevna in 1934. In the following years he suffered from terrible insomnia, a condition brought about by the tyranny of the times.

Primed by Stalin to be the foremost Soviet state writer he withdrew. At a Party congress in 1936, he said, "You can't produce literature the way one pumps water." He tried then to be "a civilian, a natural person, with mixed luck, withdrawn, unknown".

During the Second World War, soldiers at the front were sustained by bits of Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova on scraps of paper. One of those scraps of paper, maybe deciphered over what Akhmatova called "a crimson bonfire in the snow" could have been what Akhmatova wrote about Pasternak: "The whole world was his inheritance/and he shared it with everyone."

In the autumn of 1946, Pasternak met Olga Ivinskaya and fell in love with her. Doctor Zhivago was published in Italian in November 1957, won the Nobel Prize in 1958, but brought ostracisation in Russia. In 1959, he wrote: "I should like for one second/My tears to be wiped away/ By someone on my right hand." The countryside around Peredelkino, his home village, was in lilac blossom when he died on 30 May 1960, his coffin covered in lilac.

Coming towards New Year's Eve 1988, I took the train from Kiev station to Peredelkino. An old lady sold pictures of the Mother of God with freesias on her gown and pink fans with Valentine hearts on them. The sun was carnelian over the snow as I approached Peredelkino. I'd been through a bad time that year and going to Peredelkino was part of the healing, but schisms too, I can now see, are part of life, of not fitting in, of drifting away from a society you don't feel part of, of simply trying to survive alone.

The light had almost gone as I stepped off the train and walked towards the church with its onion domes.

The following night it snowed at midnight on the New Year, and I walked away from the lights of bars into streets of stucco houses where you could see other people's Christmases through windows, a Christmas tree with silver threads on it, coloured diamant, gibbous moons, the ex voto of a candle burning. The candles could have been the ones Boris Pasternak wrote about, telling of heroic, sculpted faith, of inner logic, in the face of any kind of fascism or totalitarianism.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

    £850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn