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Literature Study GuidesDr ZhivagoBook 2 Part 15 Summary

Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 2, Part 15 : The Ending | Summary



Yuri leaves Varykino for Moscow. During his travels, he stops in the burned-out village of Veretenniki and comes across Vasya Brykin, the young conscripted laborer he met on the train to the Ural Mountains just a few years before. Vasya hid in a cave during the Red Army's raid on the village. His mother, believing the Reds had taken him, went mad and drowned herself; his two sisters were sent to an orphanage. Vasya is completely alone.

Vasya accompanies Yuri to Moscow, and the two get an apartment together. Vasya studies polygraphy, the art of printing and bookmaking. Yuri writes several small books about philosophy, medicine, health, and evolution; Vasya prints them for school credit. They're sold in a few stores and are well received. Yet the more Vasya learns, the more he distances himself from Yuri. His way of thinking seems muddled and outdated to Vasya, who finds himself increasingly attracted to communist ideology. The roommates eventually part ways.

A depressed and antisocial Yuri moves into a room in the Sventitskys' old house in Flour Town. Owned by the state, the property is run by none other than Markel, Yuri's former yard porter. Markel loves to tease Yuri about all the ways he has failed in life, and is particularly disgusted that Yuri does his own cleaning and washing. Markel volunteers the services of his daughter, Marina. "She'll go through fire for you, she pities you so much," Markel says. Yuri protests but Marina insists upon helping him regularly. One day she doesn't go home, becoming Yuri's unofficial third wife. She is a good companion for Yuri, putting up with his "grumbling, sharpness, and irritability."

Six years pass. They have two daughters together, Kapitolina and Klavdia. Yuri has reconnected with Misha and Nika, and they spend an evening talking at Gordon's apartment. Yuri is irritated by their mediocre taste and mundane opinions. He wants to tell them how ordinary they are, but that's not socially acceptable, so he stays quiet and muses about how lucky they are to know him. Misha and Nika tell him he needs to "clarify [his] relations" with Marina and Tonya, and Yuri assures them everything will work out. He's been receiving letters from Tonya and the children after a five-year break in correspondence, and he has a feeling he will see them soon.

Yuri starts for home and immediately runs into Evgraf, whom he hasn't seen for three years. He tells Evgraf how desperately he wants time alone to "go about his affairs in a concentrated way" so he can break from the old habits of the past. Evgraf quickly devises a "practical plan of how to help his brother and save him." He gives Yuri money, rents him an apartment, and arranges a job for Yuri at a hospital. Evgraf also sends money to Marina for the care of the children and promises his brother he will find a way to settle his family's position in Paris.

It's the end of August 1929, and Yuri is happy. He's been writing for the past few months, mostly about the city and urbanism. He looks forward to reuniting with Marina and their girls. As he travels to the hospital on the first day of his new job, his heart gives out. He dies on the street next to the train car, only 39 years old.

Evgraf arranges the funeral. Marina, Misha, and Nika are all distraught, but no one is more upset than Lara, who just happens to be visiting Moscow for a few days, scouting for a place for Katenka to live while she attends drama or music school. She knows nothing of Yuri's whereabouts or his death until she decides to visit the room Pasha had lived in before they were married. The door is open; people are crowded around a casket. She looks inside and sees Yuri. He had unwittingly been living in the very same apartment where he saw the candlelight through the window all those years ago.

Lara agrees to stay in town for a few days to help Evgraf go through Yuri's writings. She mentions that Pasha had been shot, and Evgraf tells her he actually killed himself. Lara thinks that this is for the best. She solicits Evgraf's advice on a delicate matter, saying only that it has to do with finding a child put up for adoption. He promises to help her. She stays for a few days longer and then disappears.


Moscow has changed since Yuri's departure 10 years before, but then again, so has he. He seems far older than his 39 years, grumbling like an old man and insisting on living in near-poverty. He does not want to practice medicine, he does not want to see people, and he doesn't want to listen to the collective praise of communism. He feels like he is the only person capable of original thought in a sea of decoys. Misha and Gordon aren't saying anything radical or new, and it's "precisely the conformity, the transparency of their hypocrisy that exasperate[s] Yuri." He thinks they praise communism the way "[t]he unfree man always idealizes his slavery."

The problem here isn't Misha and Gordon; it's Yuri. He is desperately clinging to the old days when he and Misha spent hours debating religion, art, and the other intangibles of life. Those days—and his youth—are over, and what was once hypothetical is now real. While other people have adapted to the new political order, Yuri's youthful musings have cemented themselves into an immovable roadblock. They've also made him quite egotistical.

This hardening of the mind could be related to a hardening of the heart. Yuri has already loved and lost two women, both of whom he praised endlessly, even when they were apart. Marina, however, doesn't earn anything more than jokes about how "their intimacy was a novel of twenty buckets" of water. Yuri doesn't dislike Marina—after all, there's very little to dislike about someone who supports your every whim, especially if that whim is "self-created poverty." He is most likely comforted by her presence and undoubtedly appreciates having someone take care of him. Marina is much more invested in the relationship, becoming "more dead than alive" when Yuri doesn't come home. Yuri, on the other hand, doesn't look back.

It is fitting that Yuri starts his life anew in the very room where Lara told Pasha she was ready to start her life again 18 years earlier. Evgraf's rental of Pasha's old apartment isn't a coincidence: it's fate. It's as if the candle burning in Pasha's window on that December night forged an unbreakable link between Yuri and Lara, bringing them together time and time again with no regard for war, political upheaval, or marriage vows. Lara's presence in Moscow on the very day he died is certainly the work of fate, as is her decision to peek in on the funeral taking place in Pasha's old apartment. In Chapter 13 Yuri tells Lara, "It's not for nothing that you stand at the end of my life ... just as you once rose up under the peaceful sky of childhood at its beginning." Yuri had the timing wrong, but he was right that a divine force would bring them together at the end of his life.

Yuri's death also closes a chapter in Lara's life. She seems relieved to learn that Pasha's death was by choice, and she's glad that he and Yuri got to know each other. Now Yuri is dead, Pasha is dead, and Katenka is leaving home. Having rid herself of "that alien, useless nonentity" Komarovsky, Lara is alone. The reasons behind her death/disappearance can only be speculated, but heartbreak is a safe bet.

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