Olga Ivinskaya - The Other Lara


When Boris Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya fell in love in 1946, Stalin was preparing his second assault against the Russian intelligentsia. Ivinskaya became the beleaguered poet's lifeline. By his own account, she was the inspiration for Lara in his novel Doctor Zhivago. She was his typist, his collaborator on translations and his business manager. While the unworldly poet remained on the sidelines, he delegated her to deal with hostile Soviet bureaucrats and, later, with the foreign publishers of his Nobel-prizewinning novel, banned in the U.S.S.R.

Ivinskaya paid cruelly for her 14-year association with Pasternak. In 1949, after refusing to falsely denounce her lover as a British spy, she was imprisoned for five years. Singularly diabolical torture was inflicted on Ivinskaya, who was pregnant by Pasternak at the time. At one point she was led through interminable prison corridors on the promise of a visit from Pasternak. Instead, she was thrown into the morgue. After she came to among the cadavers, she miscarried. Following Pasternak's death, she was again arrested. This time her tormentors tried to extract a confession that she had written Doctor Zhivago herself. When this tactic proved untenable, she was charged with accepting some of Pasternak's foreign royalties and sent to a concentration camp for four years.

Now 65 and living in Moscow, Ivinskaya has had her intimate recollections of Pasternak published in the West, thus risking the further wrath of the authorities in the Soviet Union. She has also made another, perhaps more portentous choice: to expose the human frailty that is the underlay of heroism and the foolishness that may be attendant upon genius. She tells of her endless "female tantrums," provoked by Pasternak's determination not to leave his wife and children but to maintain two households instead. To these outbursts the writer often responded, "this is something out of a bad novel." "I suppose I longed for recognition and wanted people to envy me," Ivinskaya explains in a characteristically unsparing passage.

She is equally unsparing of Pasternak's wife Zinaida, who died in 1966. But she does cite some of Pasternak's letters to third parties that are full of praise for Zinaida: "I owe my life to her," the writer declared after a long illness. At times, Ivinskaya tends to confuse art and life. She often asserts that particular lines in Pasternak's work refer specifically to her. In his overwhelmingly expressive portrait of Lara, Pasternak offered no other physical description of his heroine than a mention of "strong, white, woman's arms." Ivinskaya would have been well advised to allow readers to imagine the rest.

Read more: TIME

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