Doctor and Me


The first time I read Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago I was nine. I guess it was during my first holidays away from boarding-school. It was winter, good time for long books and home coziness. I remember how I sympathized with Tonya’s cause and despised Lara’s fate. For me, Tonya represented home, mother and all reassuring feelings I could understand. Though I was pro-Tonya, I couldn’t hate Lara entirely. I just saw her like an occasional obstacle, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.


I was in my teens when I decided to read it again. I had a clear notion that the first time I had skipped pages, just following dialogues and interesting passages. No way I could have read all those description grey areas with nine!


Soon I learned that 4 or 5 years after my first reading, I wasn’t still very much into descriptions. On the contrary, I remember how I was even more interested in the plot and less in everything delaying it. To my own surprise, this once my favorite character was Lara. She personalized all my growing romanticism. Tonya was merely an obstacle to Lara and Zhivago’s happiness. I hated her, during the reading and for a very long time.


On read three, I was still dealing with the hate-Tonya and love-Lara equation. I was a lot more mature though. In reality, I understood that in my previous attempts I had been too centralized on the female universe. My hate or love for the characters came as a result of trying to identity myself with one of them. Which kind of woman would I like to be? How would I like to be loved?


But this time I was well aware of how strong Pasternak’s female characters were. They were different in so many things still so strong and so coherent on their paths. What importance if Tonya was the one who cared and Lara the one who mattered, when I was feeling that both were strong and right?


After that discovery, Zhivago has drawn my attention. Contrary to previous impressions, I felt sorry for him (though compassion is not my favorite ground). The poor sad guy was merely an observer, divided, undecided and bivalent – and not only about two women. While many can read Zhivago thinking of the macho art of juggling with two women, I reached the opposite conclusion: here is a man feeling miserable because 1) He is not a player on the events unfolding around him, he just goes with the flow. 2) He is a witness, but he doesn’t have the desire or strength to change the outcome of things around him. 3) Undecided about two women, he seems to feel pretty miserable. 4) Instead of making one of them happy, he manages to make the two of them somehow unsatisfied.


I can understand the male quest for happiness in a certain degree and at certain stage. There are phases in our lives when that quest is an imperative. But once found the Right One (and if you marry her it is because she is the one – otherwise better correct the mistake), why not invest in her exclusive happiness?


Up to this day, I have some reservations in what concerns Zhivago’s character. And that is also the geniality of the words, the way they draw you a picture of someone so close to reality. I do think that out there men like Zhivago exist, men with a Zhivago’s complex. They use a woman as an excuse to make another one unhappy. They use both women to avoid taking a decision.


In this world there are lots of women and men. It is said women outnumber men, an advantage point for men. Is it possible that quantity is still an equation in relationships terms?


The idea that a man can make more than a woman happy only exists in the head of some men. But lets not forget that the principle is also religious. I had a curious talk with a man with three wives. He tried very hard to convince me that the system worked. Giving him the benefit of a doubt, I heard him. And how he talked! At the end, I concluded that those women only accept the deal for need, obligation or both.


For me, such men believe in fairy tales. They believe that women don’t have needs, don’t have a say. They believe that men can perform miracles, when the reality shows the diametrical opposite. Miracles, only in their dreams.


Men like to think that they are and they can. Who doesn’t? It is an old art of women to let them think that they do. A little of imagination and fantasy don’t hurt anybody. The problem is that men’s imagination has the tendency to show… and show. And today I had to sayl it.


If a man can make a woman fairly happy, and he can feel that he does – if he wants to be attentive to that detail –, he can consider himself a very lucky one.


Portuguese language has a say: “Your eyes are too big for your belly size.” It is usually used with people who eat a lot or want too many things. In terms of relationships, some men are just like that. They have too big eyes for such small… (whatever).


During that last reading it stuck me how women are strong in their true selves. How Zhivago seem historically misplaced and incapable of deciding between the lover and the mother figures. He is a serious example of the dichotomy some men suffer: the woman-mother or the woman-lover? Is it that difficult to accept the one-woman concept? Beneath each Tonya lies a Lara. Beneath each Lara lies a Tonya. Sometimes, men underline which one they want her to be –and then regret the choice.


Most men think to be happy by numbers or by the illusion of making lots of women happy, be they wooers, boyfriends or husbands. It seems to me that in order to be happy all it takes is making another person happy. But that requires courage and a well-leveled ego.


Why can’t men make more than a woman happy? But they can! They can make them miserably happy.


Well, I don’t read Doctor Zhivago for a long time. I wonder how I would feel if I decided to give Zhivago another try?