Ostensibly the story of Yuri Zhivago and Larissa (Lara) Antipova, this a sweeping tale of the early stages of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath shot through with a doomed love story. Zhivago is a physician and a poet (his poetry follows the text of the novel). He is of the priviledged class but initially feels great sympathy with the proletariot. He volunteers to serve in WWI and it is while working as a medic there that he first meets Lara although he had glimpsed her once before in Moscow. Lara, born to wealth, lived through financial struggles with her mother after her father's death and suffered a Lolita-like relationship with the older man who posed as her mother's benefactor. As these two, both already married to others, continue to find each other after the war, through the revolution and then during the hardships and paranoia afterwards, they grow ever closer and eventually unable to resist any longer, fall into an all-consuming affair. But Yuri and Lara's love story is only a minor thread when compared to the sweeping and all-encompassing story of Russia's changes of the time, politically and socially.
The tenor of the Revolution changes in the course of the novel, as do Yuri's feelings about it and its potential. There are long and complicated musings on the philosophical ideology underpinning the Communist Party as versus those underpinning the White Party. Detailed and extensive descriptions of the Russian-Soviet countryside abound as well, with the weather sweeping through it frequently reflecting the desperation and despair accompanying the new regime's policies. It is no surprise, given the criticisms and even just the ambivalences toward the Revolution spelled out in the character of Yuri Zhivago that this was not allowed to be published in Russia and that there was subsequently a "request" by the government that Pasternak not accept the Nobel Prize.
For many unfamiliar with (or not avidly interested in) the details of the Russian Revolution, the story of Yuri and Lara is not enough to counterbalance the heavy political commentary. Even though I do have a decent working knowledge of the time, I found it tedious. Yuri and Lara as characters were flat and uninspired. The number of secondary and incidental characters was enormous and there was far too much information about each of them, especially when their background or views were not necessary to the plot in any way shape or form and their appearance in the tale was as fleeting as possible. Excessive is the word that springs to mind when I think of the novel as a whole, followed closely by boring. As much as I wanted to thrill to it as I did to Tolstoy's works so many years ago, I just couldn't. It's hard for me to say whether the translation had anything to do with the dry, unappealing nature of the novel for me but I don't plan to pick up another version to find out. Quite a disappointment.