Doctor Zhivago has one of the strangest stories of publication in modern fiction. Written by Russian author Boris Pasternak, the book was initially published in Italy in 1957 and would not become available inside the Soviet Union for years. Although initially approved for publication in his home country, the ruling authorities ultimate reversed this decision on the basis that the novel was a repudiation of the Bolshevik Revolution. The spread of availability of the novel around the world made Pasternak an official pariah of the Soviet government and many of friends and members of the literary elite were forced to denounce him and the novel.
Although Pasternak had been a major figure in world poetry since the 1920’s, one of the most unusual aspects of the story behind his only novel involves the greatest honor available for authors. A gap of at least several years—almost always a decade—and in many cases several decades usually exists between the appearance of the central work or works singled out by the Nobel Prize committee for their decision to honor a writer and the actual conferring of the honor. Pasternak, by stark contrast, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1958, barely a year after publication of the work which was specifically mentioned as the justification for the decision by the committee members.
Unfortunately, he was able to enjoy none of the glory or compensation that comes with the honor. The Soviet government forced him to reject the award and denied him the freedom to leave the country and accept. In 1965, noted film director David Lean brought Doctor Zhivago to the screen in a critically acclaimed epic that took home half the 10 Academy Awards for which it was nominated.