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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 (Ecco, $27.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780062439345). 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 naive 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.

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Title Annotation:columns: WELL READ; Lara: The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago
Author:Weibezahl, Robert
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2017
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