Advanced Mid/High The Russian writer who refused his Nobel Prize

Click here

Watch the episode of the TV program about Boris Pasternak where authors and narrators Leonid Parfenov and Tatyan Arno together with their guest, an author of a biography of Boris Pasternak Dmitry Bykov discuss the unhappy period of Pasternak’s life, his public condemnation and the fate of his book Doctor Zhivago.

Listen to the first time and try to put down all the proper names and dates you heard. Then watch the episode as many times as you need to put down the story about Pasternak’s last years in the chronological order.

It is a well known that rejected in Russia, Doctor Zhivago was smuggled west and published first in Italian in 1957 and then in English in 1958. A novel spans the 40 years of the Russian history, two world wars, three revolutions, civil war, the disasters of collectivisation and famine, the purges of the intelligentsia, the military, and the Soviet political elite. It is also a very sad and moving story of the life and loves of physician and poet Yuri Zhivago who even amidst the most bitter tragedies was able to see and reflect in his poetry on the breathtaking beauty of life.

At the time when Doctor Zhivago was created any poet who did not have a political agenda, or was not engaged in soviet critical thinking was viewed as a political traitor. The establishment was solidly against Pasternak and considered his novel anti-Soviet. Meanwhile, Western critics built up Pasternak’s reputation, found evidence of the prophetic insight in his novel and therefore contributed to his recognition in the West that was a mirror reflection to counter distorted representations of his work in the Soviet Union.

In October 1958 the book, which concludes with a cycle of Zhivago's poetry, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, for Pasternak’s “important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition.” While Pasternak was not sent into exile or arrested, all publication of his translations came to a halt. Workers and intellectuals in quiet threats and noisy rhetorical pieces unanimously condemned Boris Pasternak for producing the wicked slander on Soviet society. The famous line from one of the letters “I haven’t read Pasternak, but I condemn him” eventually became a bitter joke, reflecting the situation when masses of people who obediently lifted their hands to condemn what was in the book, had never read it. Finally, Russian authorities forced Pasternak to decline the Nobel Prize and ejected him from the Union of Soviet Writers. Above and beyond everything else, in February 1959 Pasternak is accused in high treason for a short poem Нобелевская премия with a following concluding stanza

Что же сделал я за пакость, Я, убийца и злодей? Я весь мир заставил плакать Над красой земли моей.

"Am I a gangster or murderer? Of what crime do I stand condemned? I made the whole world weep at the beauty of my land."