Boris Pasternak was a larger-than-life character on the Soviet literary scene. Born at the beginning of the 1890s into an artistic, successful family of assimilated Jews, he was much admired by his peers as a poet but clearly fell into the ‘bourgeois’ category disdained by proletarian communists, all the more so since the rest of his family emigrated after the Russian Revolution. Stalin, however, thought it worth protecting the man he called a ‘cloud-dweller’. In the mid-1930s, Pasternak decided to turn to prose, writing a big-canvas novel set during the Revolution with a protagonist based to some extent on himself and a love story at its heart. It was published two decades later as Doctor Zhivago.
By the mid-1950s, after Stalin’s death, cultural controls had relaxed somewhat, but not to the point of easily accommodating a novel that accorded a kind of greatness to the Revolution but few beneficent effects. Soviet journals and publishers reacted warily at best, and Pasternak started giving copies of