Understanding Boris Pasternak

Article excerpt

Larissa Rudova. Understanding Boris Pasternak. Understanding Modern European and Latin American Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. xv, 211 pp. Chronology. Notes. Select Bibliography. General Index. Index of Works. $29.95, cloth.

As part of the Understanding Modern European and Latin American Literature series, Larissa Rudova's Understanding Boris Pasternak is intended primarily for the undergraduate and non-academic reader. Rudova states the three goals of this work as: (1) to correct the one-sided tendency of Western criticism which portrays Pasternak as the author of the novel Doctor Zhivago while neglecting his important works of verse, short prose and translation; (2) to speculate on the reasons Pasternak survived the Stalinist terrors while those around him perished; and (3) to give a general overview of Pasternak's literary oeuvre. Wisely, Rudova does not spend much time in conjecture over the second goal of her work and instead focuses on providing a sound basis for the first and third.

Her well-balanced treatment of Pasternak's literary career includes chapters on his early verse collections, early prose, epic poems, translations, novel and late poetry. Timely pieces of historical and cultural context situate Pasternak against the rapidly changing background of each of the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Biographical details are kept to a minimum. Rudova deals with important concepts which span decades in Pasternak's literary career: the long struggle to write a novel, the attempt to rid his verse of affectation and ornamentation and the continual failure to portray historical time.

The strength of this work is its clear, concise prose and its thorough but not belaboured treatment of Pasternak's substantial and varied writings. …