Lara by Anna Pasternak review

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a very merry Christmas, I certainly did. I got plenty of presents, ate my body weight in chocolate and finished Lara: The Untold Story that Inspired Doctor Zhivago. Anna Pasternak is the great-niece of the author Boris Pasternak and her book recounts his life with his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya. She would become the inspiration for Lara, the love interest in his seminal novel Doctor Zhivago. Yet it is this same book that places Olga in danger as government officials, believing the work to be ‘anti-Soviet’, are watching their every move. Boris and Olga’s love for one another will create one of greatest novels in Russian literature, yet also lead to the dark depths of the labour camp Potma.

Writing talent is obviously embedded in Pasternak DNA. The author successfully weaves interviews, letters and extracts into the story, giving greater insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people involved. It doesn’t feel like a dry, academic piece of non-fiction, on the contrary it crackles with emotion. By essentially letting Boris, Olga et al to tell this painful story in their own words, the book feels very raw. I particularly like when Pasternak compares her great-uncle’s life to snippets of his work. This leads to a greater understanding of the influences affecting his writing as well as strengthens the author’s argument that Olga was a significant person in his life. You don’t need to have read any of Boris Pasternak’s work to enjoy this book but I would recommend doing so, as I think I got more pleasure reading this having read Doctor Zhivago years ago.

Anna Pasternak manages to cram a lot of information into Lara but it doesn’t feel bogged down. It’s very readable and Pasternak keeps the story going at quite a fast pace. At times it read like a thriller, and when Olga was getting interrogated by officials my heart was pounding. Pasternak successfully creates suspense in these moments and you want to keep reading to find out what happens. The cliffhangers at the end of each chapter are also a genius, albeit cruel, touch too.

I also really enjoyed the portrayal of Boris Pasternak. He isn’t overly romanticised or worshipped here, instead we get to see the man behind the famous name. He appears a bag of contradictions, being fearless in his work yet cowardly when it came to his personal life. Some of his actions give him the appearance of a drama queen, to the point where the drama he creates is almost funny. He is also incredibly vain. Yet you ultimately still care for him, and wish Olga and him to be together. He seemed a very complex individual and I appreciate Anna Pasternak revealing his true brilliantly barmy nature.

Lara is certainly not the most Christmassy book. It is filled with trials and tribulations, labour camps and interrogations. But, like Doctor Zhivago, I think Lara is ultimately about love. The relationship between Boris and Olga is the main driving force of the book and, despite all the hardships, it never wavers (sort of). Anna Pasternak does a brilliant job of retelling her great-uncle’s life, filled to the brim with quotes from the people in it. As I said, even if you haven’t read Pasternak’s work before I think you will enjoy it. I’m glad I rounded off 2017 with Lara and I hope Boris and Olga are together wherever they may be.

Lara: The Untold Love Story that Inspired Doctor Zhivago is published by William Collins and more info can be found here.


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