January 2: disappearing into the shadows

Doctor Zhivago is a a mixed novel. Curiously amateurish at times (the frightened attempts to avoid any narration of dramatic events and the use of overhearing as a device like some 18th century picaresque novel) and engaging at others. It is Paternak’s only novel and shows. There is one deeply affecting moment when one of the two main characters, Lara, Zhivago’s major love interest in the text, is erased from the story. On page 447 of the novel in the translation we read:

“One day Larissa Fyodorovna left the house and did not come back again. Evidently she was arrested in the street in those days and died or vanished no one knew where, forgotten under some nameless number on subsequently lost lists in one of the countless general or women’s concentration camps in the north.”

It is as if at the end of the novel, after 447 pages of scrupulous attention to the character, the novelist loses interest. The character is permitted to disappear into the shadows of history.

These are always intriguing and mysterious moments in a novel where the character is left to his or her own devices and consequently ceases to be. The one other example of this that comes to mind is Alfred Doeblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. Here, on page 731, after painstaking depiction of his trials and tribulations, Doeblin writes:

“Dem Biberkopf wird gleich nach diesem Prozess eine Stelle als Hilfsportier in einer mittleren Fabrik angeboten. Weiter ist hier von seinem Leben nichst zu berichten.”

(“Soon after this trial Biberkopf is offered a job as a porter in a middle-sized company. He accepts the job. No more about his life will be reported here.”)

Apparently, randomly, the storyteller just decides to stop the story and Biberkopf disappears from the pages of the novel, a little like Lara in the Pasternak. It reads as desolately bleak. These people, whom we have followed and lived with, cease to be. They are maybe living their life somewhere, suffering further in their particular cases, but we will know nothing more about them. It is terribly sad. The novel can no longer accomodate them.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s