February 13, 2007

Doctor Zhivago and Khrushchev

Nikita Khrushchev was born on April 17 {April 5, old calendar}, 1894, in Kalinovka, Ukraine. One of the few Soviet party members to survive Stalin's regime and purges, Khrushchev became the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union {1953-64} and Premier of the Soviet Union {1958-1964}.

As the son of a miner and grandson of a serf, Khrushchev was an active member of workers' organizations and, by the time of the Revolution, of the Russian Communist Party {Bolsheviks}. He received his formal education in Soviet technical schools, served in the Red Army as a political commissar and, in 1925, was appointed party secretary for Stalin in the Petrovsko-Mariinsk district of Yuzovka. Khrushchev was a loyal supporter of Stalin, took part in the horrible political purges of the 1930's and was one of only three provincial secretaries to survive. Just prior to the Soviet involvement in WWII, Khrushchev was in charge of the integration of Soviet occupied eastern Poland into the Union. After the German invasion in June, 1941, Khrushchev was given the military rank of Lt. General and was advisor the commanders of the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk.

After the end of WWII, Khrushchev returned to his native Ukraine and attempted to restore the war torn country. This is where he, finally, began to come at odds with Stalin. The latter demanded greater grain exports while Khrushchev fought to keep the agricultural resources of the Ukraine within her borders. This, already starving country, suffered its worst famine in 1946. By 1949, Khrushchev had devised what was known as the agrogorod, a farming town or large state farm. This was in opposition to Stalin's long standing collectives.

As leader of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev fought to destalinize the nation. On February 24/25, 1956, he delivered the famous secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in Moscow. Khrushchev spoke out boldly against the excesses of the Stalin years and the late leader's brutality and abuses of his authority. His political platform was one of peaceful co-existence, or what he called, peaceful competition, with the capitalist nations. Khrushchev traveled abroad a great deal and was, for a time, a popular guest in many countries, including the U.S. Time Magazine selected him their Man of the Year for 1957.

Four years prior to Khrushchev's birth, another boy was born in Moscow, on February 10 {January 29, old calendar}, 1890. This child grew up in a well-to-do Jewish family. His father was an art professor and painted portraits of such people as Leo Tolstoy and Sergey Rachmaninoff. The boy grew and attended Moscow University, was physically disqualified from military service and, after the Revolution, worked in the Soviet Library of Education. By 1922, at the age of 32, this man was known as one of the Soviet Union's finest new poets. He had published in the avant-garde style, volumes such as Over the Barriers and My Sister Life. Under Stalin, avant-garde was frowned upon and replaced by the new, official, style known as Socialist Realism. Not able nor willing to write in this style and fearing for his life during the 1930's purges, our poet produced no original works until 1943. He earned a living as a translator of preferred Western works such as Shakespeare, a variety of English Romantic poets and writers from Stalin's native Georgia.

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak likely could have lived out his life in relative peace and obscurity. Instead, he presented his manuscript for an epic historical novel in 1956. The work was flatly rejected by the Moscow press and Pasternak branded a libellous traitor. But, the book made its way out of the Soviet Union and, by 1958, had been translated into eighteen languages and was being admired around the world. The Nobel Prize for Literature is probably the most sought after recognition a writer could hope for. Pasternak was selected to receive this award in 1958.

This international honor only brought more hardship on the writer. Aside from being prohibited from accepting the Nobel Prize, Pasternak was ousted from the Union of Soviet Writers, the source of his livelihood, and there was growing pressure for his deportation. Pasternak, who suffered from cancer and heart disease, was left to die a sad and broken man. The author of the much loved Doctor Zhivago passed away on May 30, 1960, in his home at Peredelkino. Earlier works include the autobiographical Safe Conduct {1931}.

What did Nikita Khrushchev have against the fictional Dr. Zhivago? Afterall, it is a romance set against images of the hauntingly beautiful Russian winter, the confusing times of the Revolution with it's title character, Zhivago, a Russian medical doctor and poet. The novel was seen as a complete and erroneous presentation of the 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks and the resulting Communist regime. Pasternak was accused of misrepresenting the people of the Revolution and the social structure of the Soviet Union. In 1917, Khrushchev was a young impassioned member of the peasant working class which distrusted and blamed the upper classes for their hardships. Pasternak's work focused on the upper class, which he was a part of, and the tribulations to their way of life in the face of the massive peasant revolts. In this sense, Doctor Zhivago is similar to Tolstoy's treatment of the upper class during the War of 1812 in War and Peace. This is not surprising when you understand that Tolstoy, not only had his portrait painted by Pasternak's father, Leonid Pasternak (1862-1945), but was a family friend and frequent guest in their home.

The world has embraced Doctor Zhivago and Pasternak will always be considered a Nobel Prize winner. The novel was made into a movie in 1965 starring Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Julie Christie as Laura. Pasternak was, posthumously, reinstated into the Union of Soviet Writers in 1987, finally making possible the publication of Doctor Zhivago in the Soviet Union.

On September 12, 1995, Olga Ivinskaya died at age 83. The model for Pasternak's Zhivago heroin, Laura, was the writer's mistress from 1946 until his death in 1960. Zhivago was a known work in progress in the 1940's. Stalin's efforts to suppress such projects centered on persecution of the loved ones of the writer in question. Thus, Olga was arrested, tortured and shipped off to a Gulag in 1949. Pasternak refused to stop work on Zhivago and was reunited with Olga upon her release in 1953. After his death, the KGB raided Olga's home and seized notes, letters and other papers of Pasternak, which she had in her possession. Olga and her daughter were sentenced to the Gulag, again. They were officially "rehabilitated" the same year Pasternak was reinstated into the Union of Soviet Writers. Pasternak's papers wound up in the Soviet Archives. Olga wrote a pleading letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, prior to her death, requesting the return of these papers. Her request was not fulfilled.

The papers reveal both a passionate and enduring love and strong evidence that Olga Ivinskaya was Zhivago's Laura.

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