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Boris Pasternak

Awards: Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958

Born: 10/02/1890 in Moscow, USSR which is present day Russia in a wealthy Jewish family

Death: 30/05/1960  at Peredelkino, USSR in Lung Cancer

Language: Russian

Nationality: Russian

  Boris Pasternak's father was a Painter and mother was a concert pianist. The famous writer Leo Tolstoy was a family friend and often there were mutual visits. Boris's father used to draw illustrations for Tolstoy's novels and particularly for his novel Resurrection. The whole house was under the influence of Tolstoy. Thus, the young man grew up in a literary & artistic ambience.

   As a student, Boris went to the University in Marburg, Germany to pursue a Doctorate in Philosophy but left midway for Moscow upon outbreak of First World War.

While in Marburg, a girl from Moscow, Ida Vysotskaya, who was a school acquaintance, went to Boris and declared her love. This had inspired him to write the poem "Marburg" . However, the girl's family opposed the marriage because Boris was not financially sound. Another failed marriage in 1917 pained him to write "My Sister", "Life". After October,1917 Revolution, though many of Pasternak's friends and relatives left Russia, Boris chose to stay back.

    In 1921, My Sister, Life were published and brought a sensation in literary circles because of unique style, allusion used in poems and created many young followers.

 When Stalin came to power in 1929, there were drastic changes in power equations. Stalin was a ruthless dictator and suppressed all opposition. Mandelstam who was a friend of Boris wrote against Stalin. Boris advised him to destroy the writing but some how the matter got leaked and Mandelstam was arrested. Boris fervently tried to de-link his name till he received a direct phone call from Stalin who wanted to find out the reaction of writer community to the arrest of Mandelstam. Boris fumbled and lied and appealed Stalin for pardon till the line was cut off. During the Great Purge, many writers were executed. His friend Tabidze was executed and Marina Tsvetaeva committed suicide which devastated Pasternak. For some strange reason, Stalin let off Pasternak telling his men not to touch the cloud dweller (which means leave that holy fool alone)

 Pasternak's masterpiece was Dr Zhivago which was completed only in 1956 and was secretly handed over to a Western Publishing House. In November,1957, the novel was released and created a sensation In 1958, Nobel Prize was given which infuriated the Soviet regime which forced him not to receive the prize.

  The cable made by Pasternak read thus--"In view of the meaning given the award by the society in which I live, I must renounce this undeserved distinction which has been conferred on me. Please do not take my voluntary renunciation amiss." The Swedish Academy announced: "This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place."

According to his son, Yevgenii Pasternak, "I couldn’t recognize my father when I saw him that evening. Pale, lifeless face, tired painful eyes, and only speaking about the same thing: 'Now it all doesn’t matter, I declined the Prize"

 During the last phase of his life, Pasternak wrote of love, reconciliation and God in his poems.

Major Influence: William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy

Major Works: My Sister,Life(1922), Safe Conduct(1931),Selected Poems(1946), Essay in Autobiography(1956), Dr Zhivago(1957), When the Weather Clears(1959)

Boris Pasternak

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