Given the boom in new Dr. Zhivago dramatizations in the past decade or so, one begins to think of travelling to the sources of the work. Although it is very much rooted in the atmosphere of Russia — to quote Pushkin, “here is the Russian spirit, here it smells of Russia” (Ruslan and Lyudmila) — still, specific locations are either fictionalized or generalized, so that there are few particular sites to visit. But several spots are of tremendous atmospheric value for an understanding of the work.
One of them is Perm’, the prototype of the fictional town of “Yuriatin” (which could be rendered as “Yury’s Town”), where the love of Yury Zhivago and Lara was said to have been played out.
Nestled in the western foothills of the Urals, Perm’ might be considered on the very edge of Europe. Still, Sergei Diagilev graduated from gymnasium (high school) there, and the town honors him with a museum. This was the provincial backwater from which Chekhov’s three sisters yearned to go to Moscow. And Pasternak himself spent some time there in 1916. It’s not such a backwater any more, but rather the 13th most populous city in the Russian Federation, and home to a fine spate of innovative theatres. In fact, it was in Perm’ in 2007 that one of the recent musical stage adaptations of Doctor Zhivago was mounted, in 2007, with a score by Aleksandr Zhurbin (Perm’ Academic Theater). The other musical version, by Lucy Simon, Michael Weller, and Michael Korie, premiered in La Jolla in 2006, and was moved to Sydney in 2011. Two television series have recently tackled the novel, a British one in 2002, and a Russian one in 2006.
A trip to Perm’ would provide a great place to read Pasternak in an atmosphere redolent of the novel itself. Of course we’d stop in Moscow on the way, and pay our respects at the dacha museum in nearby Peredelkino. Pasternak’s birthday, February 10, would be a good date to think about. The grave would be piled high with freshly cut flowers placed by admirers — we could add to the pile. And Perm’ would be all snowy and atmospheric then.