1958: Doctor Zhivago
Author: Boris Pasternak
Many of us in the United States know Dr. Zhivago as a sweepingly romantic tale, perhaps from reading the novel, perhaps from the portrayal by Omar Sharif & Julie Christie or even the more recent version, with Keira Knightly and Hans Matheson. The story follows Yuri Andreeivich Zhivago and Lara Guichard through their tormented romance and the historical upheavals of the early twentieth century in Russia.
What we sometimes forget in the focus on the novel as a romantic and literary classic is the focus on the historical events and traumas—as well as the tribulation Pasternak suffered as a result of this novel. While documenting a classic love affair, the novel also highlights the suffering of the First World War, the internecine struggles between reformers, revolutionaries, and conservatives of all stripes in the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent hunger and repression that many suffered in the following years. We also may overlook the struggles Pasternak faced as a result of writing his book. It was deemed insufficiently interested in the progress of society, and refused publication in the Soviet Union. However, it was eagerly consumed as samizdat by Soviet readers, and cemented his reputation as an author. Pasternak died in 1960 of lung cancer, and despite minimal notices for his funeral, thousands came to his funeral.