September 5

This Day in History

Cold War

Sep 5, 1958:

Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago appears in the United States

Boris Pasternak's romantic novel, Dr. Zhivago is published in the United States. The book was banned in the Soviet Union, but still won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.

Pasternak was born in Russia in 1890, and by the time of the Russian Revolution was a well-known avant-garde poet. His work fell into disfavor during the 1920s and 1930s as the communist regime of Joseph Stalin imposed strict censorship on Russian art and literature. During this time, Pasternak eked out a living as a translator. In 1956, he completed the book that would make him a worldwide name. Dr. Zhivago was an epic love story set during the tumult of the Russian Revolution and World War I. The book infuriated Soviet officials, particularly Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviets argued that the book romanticized the pre-Revolution Russian upper class and degraded the peasants and workers who fought against the czarist regime. The official Soviet press refused to publish the book and Pasternak found himself the target of unrelenting criticisms. Admirers of Pasternak's work, however, began secretly to smuggle the manuscript out of Russia piece by piece. By 1958, the book began to appear in numerous translations around the world, including an edition in the United States that appeared on September 5, 1958. The book was hailed as an instant classic, and Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.

None of the acclaim for the book helped Pasternak, though. The Soviet government refused to allow him to accept the Nobel Prize, and he was banished from the Soviet Writers Union. The latter action ended Pasternak's writing career. Pasternak died in May 1960 from a combination of cancer and heart disease. Dr. Zhivago refused to die with him, though. In 1965, it was made into a hit movie starring Omar Sharif as the title character. In 1987, as part of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's democratic reforms, Pasternak, though dead for nearly 30 years, was readmitted to the union and his book was finally published in Russia.

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