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Pasternak's novella is more of an extended prose poem - its movement is not through narrative or character, but the flux of imagery, both observational and metaphorical. An invalided Russian soldier arrives in 1916 at a remote factory town near the Urals to stay with his married sister; he rests after the long train journey, and reminisces, or dreams, about the months preceding the outbreak of World War One, his graduation from college, his job as a tutor with a wealthy, unhappily married family, his relations with various women (his sister, his mistress, her paid companion, prostitutes). This slight story is merely a frame on which is hung the overpowering expression of a developing artistic sensibility, as it transforms the world around it - the sights, sounds and smells; the description of storms, city streets, parks, dust-winds, snows. The language is continually, fluidly metamorphosing, in keeping with the artist's mind, so that the reader is continually jolted and carried away from thought to evocation to feeling. In this world, the human beings are passive, phantom-like, while things, objects, nature, have an active, conscious power. Like Joyce's similar 'Portrait of the artist as a young man', this dense poetry of autobiography and bildungsroman strives towards the creation of a work of art, in this case a rather portentous drama (which is apparently devastatingly beautiful in the Russian); while the reader is always conscious of the shadows of war and Revolution (the book was published in 1934).Read more ›
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