Martin Amis once described Finnegans Wake as a “700-page crossword clue, and the answer is ‘the.’” Where does that leave Doctor Zhivago with its recurring symbols and allusions that compete with Joyce for spawning an exegetical industrial complex? As Boris Pasternak told Olga Carlisle in an interview for TheParis Review in 1960: “Now some critics have gotten so wrapped up in those symbols—which are put in the book the way stoves go into a house, to warm it up—they would like me to commit myself and climb into the stove.” What a tease coming from an author whose symbolism gorgeously encoded his entire philosophy of life and art and whose fiction so closely mirrored his own fate.

Born in 1890 to a painter father and pianist mother, Pasternak set out at first to become a composer. He studied under the great Alexander Scriabin who later encouraged his...

 
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