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Literature Study GuidesDr ZhivagoBook 2 Part 12 Summary

Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 2, Part 12 : The Frosted Rowan | Summary



The 11 men found guilty of conspiracy—both Reds and Whites—and two men convicted of making and selling moonshine are taken to their executions. One of the convicted men still has his gun, and a brief skirmish ensues. Order is restored, and the doomed men are backed toward a precipice. They all beg for mercy before a hail of bullets whizzes through the air and kills them. Terenty is the last to stop twitching.

Winter looms, and Yuri is out of medical supplies and receives very little support from the army. The injured and ill are forced to walk miles back to camp. Moonshine, once abolished, is back in production for medical use, but this also means drunkenness, which "contribut[es] to the developing degradation in the camp." By the time the soldiers' families arrive, they aren't allowed to stay for long because of their "harmful influence ... on the mood of the camp." Pamphil Palykh, who had cheered up once his family arrived, reverts to his hallucinations.

Those aren't the Reds' only problems. The White Army surrounds them on almost all sides, and the only way through is certainly a trap. Another problem involves the refugee women. Their new camp was burned down, so now they're wandering the woods, building paths and bridges, helped by the men sent to protect them. Without meaning to, they've given the White Army a direct route to the Forest Brotherhood. Liberius is livid.

An amputee, "a bloody human stump," crawls into the camp. His missing arm and leg are attached to his back, along with an inscribed wooden plank. Its message reads he was mutilated in revenge for horrors committed by a Red detachment, and the same will be done to the partisans unless they surrender to Vitsyn's White troops. The dying man struggles to describe the tortures inflicted by Vitsyn's men, including Colonel Strese, before dying in front of everyone. Pamphil panics and races to his family. "To deliver them from future sufferings and shorten his own," he kills them. Nobody knows what to do about it, and no charges are brought up against him. He disappears into the woods the next day.

Winter is well under way when Liberius tells Yuri the Whites are retreating. Yuri presses him to see if there's any news of their families, but Liberius will say only, "Let's believe that they're safe." Yuri feels ill as he imagines Tonya plowing through the snow, a child in each arm. He's had enough. After dark he makes his way across camp to where he stowed a pair of skis under the snow. He's briefly stopped by a guard near the rowan tree and provides the necessary password. The rowan tree's snowy branches remind him of Lara's welcoming arms. He murmurs endearments to her before finding his skis farther along in the forest and leaving for good.


War is brutal, both on the soldiers fighting it and on their families. Pasternak uses Chapter 12 to explore the psychological effects of war, and they aren't pretty. The amputee's account of being captured by the Whites is horrifying: "They beat you to a pulp, sprinkle salt on your wounds, pour boiling water over you," and worse. But the terror of war doesn't lie just with the enemy—it insinuates itself on friendly territory, too. Pamphil's brutal murder of his family is most likely the byproduct of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Pamphil served in the armed forces on and off since World War I; he was directly responsible for at least one death, Commissar Gint's, which haunts him. Imagining what could befall his family if they were captured by the Whites, Pamphil kills them "to deliver them from future suffering." Not all wars are fought on the battlefield, and not all blood is on the enemy's hands.

The men who plotted to give Liberius to the White Army certainly knew what the consequences would be if they were caught, yet they still beg for mercy. Terenty is the most cowardly of them all as he sobs, "Don't kill me. I haven't lived yet. I'm too young to die." Maybe he's right. His feet are the last to stop twitching because he doesn't actually die—he's just injured, but pretends he's dead so no one will shoot at him again. He escapes the camp and shows up later in the story, ready and willing to sabotage someone else.

Terenty doesn't have much of a conscience, but Yuri does. He is torn between his family and Lara 18 months after parting from them. He worries about his family endlessly and feels guilty that he is "always far away, apart from them all his life," even questioning "is he a papa, are real papas like that?" These distressing thoughts initially help him decide to escape the Forest Brotherhood, but they're not the real reason behind his doing so. He leaves because of Lara. "I shall see you, my beauty, my princess, my dearest rowan tree, my own heart's blood," he says to the tree whose branches remind him of Lara's arms. Yuri's conscience tethers him to his family, but his heart will always yearn for Lara.

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