This is going to be a difficult review to write as I have developed a real love-hate relationship with this book.
It is an epic story about a man, who is supposed to be this tragic hero separated from the women he loved by the cruel times of revolution and civil war. If you ask me, he was just a philandering 'mudak'*.
I guess we can interpret the whole storyline as a metaphor of that period of Russian history, in which case it all makes sense but still doesn't make it „one of the greatest love stories ever told” as advertised on the cover.
The first hundred pages of the book are devoted to introducing, at length, dozens of characters like only Russian authors can. You struggle to remember their various names, surnames, patronymics, nicknames and connection with each other only to realise later on that they are never to reappear in the novel. I am not sure what the point of that was, especially when subsquently important events in main characters lives are summarized in a few sentences or omitted altogether.
On top of that we have multitudes of completely improbable coincidences. Let's remember that Russia is the biggest country in the world, yet people keep running into each other every other page as if they all lived in a small village. Even your average romance writer wouldn't probably try to pull it off thinking it is a bit too much.
We have dealt with the storyline, now let's move on to the style. One thing, dialogue is definitely not Pasternak's forte. His characters don't talk, they orate. The author obviously had his own agenda there so the poor characters had to randomly break into two page long speeches to say what Pasternak wanted to tell us. Actually, I will let one of the characters speak for me now.
At some point Lara said:
"Instead of being natural and spontaneous as we had always been, we began to be idiotically pompous with each other. Something showy, artificial, forced, crept into our conversation - you felt you had to be clever in a certain way about certain world-important themes."
Touche, Lara, touche. Another interesting thing she said (actually this book would be so much better if it was called Larissa Fyodorovna instead of Doctor Zhivago) was her outlook on philosophy:
"I am not fond of philosophical essays. I think a little philosophy should be added to life and art by way of spice, but to make it one's speciality seems to me as strange as feeding on nothing but pickles".
And Pasternak definitely loves his pickles.
Now that we've dealt with the bad and the ugly, let me tell what was good about this book. It has some of the most captivating descriptions I have come across in literature. This is where Pasternak's true genius comes to the light. Pasternak, like an Eskimo, can talk about snow in so many different beautiful ways and even though I know most of it was probably lost in translation what I've read was enough to pull this book out of the two-stardom. It maybe would've even pushed it into four-stardom if I had been in a better mood.
Above you have the English cover which is, I guess, okay (there IS snow) but I thought this cover was a lot more interesting. It is a cover of an old Polish edition of Doctor Zhivago.
* - that would be Russian for asshole.