Lara : The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago
by Anna Pasternak

Overview -

The heartbreaking story of the love affair between Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, and Olga Ivinskaya--the true tragedy behind the timeless classic

When Stalin came into power in 1924, the Communist government began persecuting dissident writers.  Read more...

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More About Lara by Anna Pasternak

The heartbreaking story of the love affair between Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, and Olga Ivinskaya--the true tragedy behind the timeless classic

When Stalin came into power in 1924, the Communist government began persecuting dissident writers. Though Stalin spared the life of Boris Pasternak--whose novel-in-progress, Doctor Zhivago, was suspected of being anti-Soviet--he persecuted Boris's mistress, typist, and literary muse, Olga Ivinskaya. Boris's affair with Olga devastated the straitlaced Pasternaks, and they were keen to disavow Olga's role in Boris's writing process. Twice Olga was sentenced to work in Siberian labor camps, where she was interrogated about the book Boris was writing, but she refused to betray the man she loved. When Olga was released from the gulags, she assumed that Boris would leave his wife for her but, trapped by his family's expectations and his own weak will, he never did.

Drawing on previously neglected family sources and original interviews, Anna Pasternak explores this hidden act of moral compromise by her great-uncle, and restores to history the passionate affair that inspired and animated Doctor Zhivago. Devastated that Olga suffered on his behalf and frustrated that he could not match her loyalty to him, Boris instead channeled his thwarted passion for Olga into the love story in Doctor Zhivago.

Filled with the rich detail of Boris's secret life, Lara unearths a moving love story of courage, loyalty, suffering, drama, and loss, and casts a new light on the legacy of Doctor Zhivago.

  • ISBN-13: 9780062439345
  • ISBN-10: 0062439340
  • Publisher: Ecco Press
  • Publish Date: January 2017
  • Page Count: 320
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.24 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary Figures
Books > Literary Criticism > Russian & Former Soviet Union
Books > History > Russia & the Former Soviet Union

BookPage Reviews

Well Read: Somewhere my love

Boris Pasternak’s masterwork, Doctor Zhivago, had a tortured history in Russia, where the Soviet powers suppressed its publication and vilified its writer. This censorship backfired when the manuscript was smuggled out of the country, published first in Italy and subsequently throughout the West, and Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize that had long eluded him. David Lean’s exquisite film of the novel brought the story to an even wider audience, and the cinematic portrayals of Zhivago and Lara by a soulful Omar Sharif and luminous Julie Christie enshrined those characters in the pantheon of great literary lovers. Still, few know the story of the real woman who inspired Lara—Pasternak’s mistress and muse, Olga -Ivinskaya—in no small part because after Pasternak’s death, his widow and son deliberately downplayed her role in the writer’s life. The official version maligned Olga as a wanton opportunist.

The late author’s great-niece, Anna Pasternak, at last sets the record straight in Lara. In a thoroughly researched and beautifully written account (she did not know her uncle, but had singular access to the family archives), the younger Pasternak probes the relationship between Boris and Olga, exploring not only the ways in which Olga was Lara, but also the high price she paid for her love of this complicated genius. Boris and Olga met when he was already middle-aged and married to his second wife, Zinaida, who seemed to relish her role as the wife of a famous writer, even if she barely understood his work. Twenty years younger, Olga had already been twice married and twice widowed (her first husband hanged himself). Olga had her own literary aspirations as a translator, and from their first meeting, there was an immediate connection between the pair. Pasternak had just begun working on Doctor Zhivago, and Olga, transmuted into Lara, soon took center stage not only in the narrative, but also in the high drama that would surround the book.

The Soviets were well aware that Pasternak was working on a novel that was rumored to shed a less than flattering light on the Bolshevik revolution. As one of the nation’s most revered poets, however, he was largely bulletproof. Instead, the authorities tried to silence the writer by going after the woman he loved. Olga was tried and sentenced to a labor camp. After her release, she stoically moved to a small cottage a mile from Pasternak’s own, and he commenced a double life, splitting his time between his two families. When the chaos over Doctor Zhivago erupted, Olga once again became an unwitting tool of the government in its attempts to bring down Pasternak. After his death, without the protection of his name, she was again tried on trumped up charges and sent to a labor camp. Her only real crime, as this book shows, was that she loved Pasternak with a fierce blindness.

Anna Pasternak paints her great uncle as a man of undeniable talent and intellect, but also dangerous shortcomings—“both hero and coward, genius and naïve fool, tortured neurotic and clinical strategist.” His love for Olga was genuine, but not without its selfishness. Olga’s loyalty was unyielding, and she would suffer gravely for her steadfastness. Lara tells a heartbreaking love story, a tragedy in some ways as compelling as the classic its real-life protagonists inspired.


This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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