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Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 2, Part 9 : Varykino | Summary



It is winter in Varykino. Yuri finally has time to write in his diary, and his musings span everything from his family to poetry to his own dreams. The hard work of the spring and summer has brought him and Tonya—whom he suspects is pregnant—closer together. Yuri has given up medicine, but it's not unusual for the odd neighbor to show up at the door requesting help. The family's main support is Samdevyatov, who seemingly takes care of everyone in town while still remaining loyal to the Bolshevik cause. Even more mysterious is Yuri's half-brother, Evgraf, who appears to be even more influential than Samdevyatov. He gifts little luxuries like soap during his two-week visit to Varykino, and Yuri believes him to be "a deliverer who resolves all difficulties."

When spring thaws the frozen landscape, Yuri goes into Yuriatin, and to the library where he spots Lara. This is the first time Yuri has seen her since admitting his feelings in Meliuzeevo. Soothed by her presence, he watches her covertly, and she leaves before he gathers the courage to speak to her. But he spots her address written on some catalogue requests and makes note of it.

Several days later, he appears at Lara's door. She has known of Yuri's relocation for at least a year, but she's still surprised to see him. They talk about the ongoing war between the Reds and the Whites. Lara insists that even though she and Yuri "understand some elusive, optional thing in the same way," they are "not of the same mind." Yuri mentions that he met Strelnikov, and Lara eventually admits what the reader already knows—Strelnikov is Pasha. She hasn't seen him since he enlisted in the army all those years ago, and he has made no effort to see her or Katenka. This doesn't bother Lara—she believes he's attacking cities left and right "so as not to come back empty-handed, but all in glory, a conqueror!" He has long since left the Ural Mountains and is now in Siberia fighting against the White Army led by Yusup, his former childhood friend.

Yuri and Lara begin an affair. The guilt eats away at him, and he decides that he needs to break it off with Lara and tell Tonya the truth. Lara says she understands, but she's visibly upset. On his ride back to Varykino, Yuri ponders if he should tell Tonya now, and decides such news could clearly wait a few days until he can see Lara again and make his position more clear. On the road, a band of Liberius's men surround Yuri. He's conscripted into medical service for the Forest Brotherhood, a division of the Red Army.


Despite their shared love of nature and that "elusive, optional thing" that draws them together, Lara and Yuri stand on two sides of a cultural divide. Yuri's background is upper-middle class, and he has been surrounded by white-collar workers his entire life. Lara, on the other hand, grew up nearly in poverty. The comforts of life she experienced were courtesy of Komarovsky, and her distaste for him only amplifies her ability to see things from the working person's point of view. Yet unlike many people, Lara doesn't let political ideology stand in the way of her relationships. She reaches out to Yusup—"a colonel, this boy, the yard porter's son"—when her patients need help even though she is married to his enemy. "It's only in bad books that living people are divided into two camps," she tells Yuri.

Lara's sentiment wholly applies to Pasternak's rendering of Doctor Zhivago. None of the characters in the book are truly terrible; they all have flaws, including the story's protagonist. Yuri's conscious decision to begin a romantic relationship with Lara while still loving Tonya "to the point of adoration" is not one of villainy, but rather a complication of human nature exacerbated by war. For Yuri, Tonya represents comfort and stability during these grim and uncertain times; Lara is an escape from worry and responsibility. Despite his guilty conscience, he feels he needs both women to survive. This unexpected deviation from what is right and what is good isn't unique to Yuri—it seems like the revolution and civil war are making everyone act out of character. Pasha abandons his family and eventually becomes a bloodthirsty leader of the Red Army. Yusup abandons his working class roots and sides with the Whites.

The only person who seems to be unchanged by the war is Evgraf. He has always been an enigma to Yuri, appearing seemingly out of thin air at the precise moment Yuri needs help. He is mysteriously all knowing, always in the right place at the right time. To put it bluntly, he's a lot like God, guiding Yuri and providing for him during his times of need. Even Yuri himself would agree with this interpretation, for he writes that Evgraf is "a mysterious unknown power, an almost symbolic person." Evgraf is so much more than just Yuri's half brother. He is his hope and his salvation.

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