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Literature Study GuidesDr ZhivagoBook 2 Part 11 Summary

Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 2, Part 11 : The Forest Army | Summary



Two years after he was taken from Varykino, Yuri is still the doctor for the Forest Brotherhood led by Liberius. He's puzzlingly "free"—no one guards him to ensure he doesn't leave—and his three escape attempts haven't been met with any punishment. This is most likely because he's a favorite of Liberius, who insists on bunking with the doctor. The two could not be more different. Liberius is full of himself and cannot comprehend that he and Yuri do not share the same ideology and aren't on the same side. Except for one afternoon when he's forced to defend himself in combat, Yuri spends his days busying himself with medical work and doing whatever he can to avoid Liberius, who, among other things, has a fondness for the medical unit's supply of cocaine.

Mental illness is spreading through the camp like typhus, and Yuri is tasked with talking to Pamphil Palykh, who is rumored to be experiencing "fleetlings," or hallucinations. Pamphil isn't a favorite of Yuri's, so Yuri puts off the task and gives in to his exhaustion on a hidden bed of leaves. He overhears Sanka, Gushka, Koska, Terenty, and a few other members of the Brotherhood talking with representatives from the White Army. It appears that they are making arrangements to hand over Liberius. Yuri forgets his hatred of Liberius and wants to warn someone, but he can't find anyone in charge. The exchange never happens—one of the men was a double agent and informed Liberius about the setup.

Yuri finally talks to Pamphil who has grown increasingly worried that something is going to happen to his family scheduled to arrive with the rest of the refugee families within the next few days. He served during World War I and knows from experience that the Forest Brotherhood is "in bad shape." When Yuri asks about his health, Pamphil finally admits that he is haunted by the memory of accidentally killing a political commissar at a train station. Yuri realizes he's talking about Commissar Gint.


Fate is hard at work as it brings various storylines together in the Siberian forest. Four of the men Yuri overhears plotting against Liberius are the same men on the run from the White Army for the false accusations of sabotage. They always intended to return to the White Army. The best way to clear their names of any wrongdoing is to offer the Whites something they really want—Liberius. The foreshadowing of Terenty's question about the meaning of saboteur is coming to fruition. He and his friends intended to sabotage the Forest Brotherhood, but they are caught.

Fate has also brought together Liberius, Mikulitsyn's son, and Yuri. Pasternak uses the juxtaposition of these two characters to show the blind exuberance and idealism of those in authority. Yuri has seen war before. He knows what it does to soldiers and their families, and he understands that although one party is declared the victor, nobody ever really wins. Liberius, on the other hand, fervently believes in his cause and himself to the exclusion of everything else. When Yuri gives a methodical explanation of why he doesn't side with the Bolsheviks, Liberius says, "You're depressed that [the Whites] are beating us and you don't see any light ahead." Yuri's concern that their families are in danger is met with the wave of a hand. Liberius embodies everything Pasternak dislikes about the political and military machines: self-importance, single-mindedness, and deafness to reason.

Fate's final stop in the forest is with Pamphil Palykh, who admits he killed Commissar Gint. Interestingly, Pamphil didn't shoot at the commissar because of his condescending, pompous attitude, but rather because he thought it was funny when Gint fell into the water barrel. He was laughing so hard that his finger hit the trigger of his gun. Once he started shooting, everyone else did, too. Pamphil's admission shows how easily a person's motivations can be misinterpreted, especially during times of war. It all depends on who is telling the story.

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