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Doctor Zhivago is a 1957 novel which got its author (Boris Pasternak) a Nobel Prize. That he was forced to reject by the Soviet government. It is one of the most famous works of Russian Literature, worth mentioning in the same breath as War and Peace, Crime and Punishment and One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich.

A tale of lost love that takes in World War One, the Russian Revolutions and the Russian Civil War, it has been adapted several times, including in Russia itself.

The most famous film adaptation is Doctor Zhivago (1965), David Lean's followup to Lawrence of Arabia starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, best known for its epic scope, and for the world famous "Lara's Theme". The film was praised for its visual style that was a calling card for its director David Lean. It also features Rod Steiger as Komarovsky.

For the film, go here - Film/Doctor Zhivago.


Recently it was adapted again into a 2002 two-part PBS Masterpiece Theatre presentation, which added an extra hour to the movie's run time, making it roughly four hours total. They decided to use the time to add in more characters, move some people around in terms of plot, make it grittier and add in some longer sex scenes which would not have been cool for a 1965 movie. Starring Keira Knightley and Hans Matheson, it also featured Sam Neil as Komarovsky, making him an even bigger Magnificent Bastard than any other onscreen adaptation yet.

Doctor Zhivago has also been adapted into a stage musical, premiering in Sydney, Australia in 2011.

For film examples, see the page on the David Lean film.


The Novel itself contains examples of:

  • Banned in China: Pasternak's book was originally banned in the Soviet Union.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Zhivago and Tonya. In all fairness, he was adopted.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Pasha. It doesn't stick, though.
  • Defictionalization: Later editions include excerpts of Yuri's poetry.
  • Doorstopper
  • Gender Bender: The sex and name of Yuri and Lara's child changes with each adaptation.
  • Lamarck Was Right: In the movie, at least, Yuri's mother is said to be an artist of the balalaika. Yuri and Lara's child inherited this.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Zhivago: the Russian root zhiv is similar to 'life'
    • Larissa: a Greek name suggesting 'bright, cheerful'
    • Komarovsky: komar is the Russian for 'mosquito'
    • Strelnikov: strelok means 'the shooter'
  • Not Blood Siblings: Zhivago and Tonya.
  • Patronymics: At least one modern English edition has a guide to patronymics.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Poor, poor Tonya. despite being Yuri's foster-sister (very, very foster...), his best friend, his life-long companion and confidant, not to mention the mother of two of his children, she gets dumped, HARD. Each adaptation plays it off differently as to how much Yuri loved her but really the girl gets dumped because she just isn't Lara.
  • Victim Falls For Rapist: Komarovsky and Lara. She changes her mind.
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