Pasternak was acclaimed as a major poet some 30 years before Doctor Zhivago (1955) made him world famous. After first pursuing promising careers in music and philosophy, he started to write around 1909 and published his first collection of verse in 1914. His first genuine triumph came with the collection My Sister, Life (1917), in which a love affair stimulates a rapturous celebration of nature. The splendid imagery and difficult syntax of this volume are a hallmark of the early Pasternak. During the 1920s, Pasternak tried to accept the reality of the new society and moved from the lyric to the epic, taking up historical and contemporary subjects. The long poem The Year 1905 (1926) is an example. While tolerated by the literary establishment, Pasternak turned increasingly in the 1930s to translation rather than original verse. He was a prolific translator; his versions of major Shakespeare plays are the standard texts used in Soviet theaters. From the start, however, prose was an important focus for Pasternak. The most notable early work is the story "Zhenia's Childhood," written in 1918, which explored a girl's developing consciousness of her surroundings. There is also his artistic and intellectual autobiography Safe Conduct (1931). But Pasternak's greatest prose achievement came later with the novel Doctor Zhivago, written over a number of years and completed in 1955. Its hero, a physician and poet, confronts the great changes of the early twentieth century including world war, revolution, and civil war, and travels a path through life that creates a parallel between his fate and that of Christ. (The theme of preordained sacrifice is strengthened by the cycle of poems included as the last section of the book.) Doctor Zhivago was rejected for publication but appeared in 1957 in the West and won its author worldwide acclaim. A Nobel Prize followed in 1958. This led the Soviet authorities to launch a major public campaign against Pasternak and to make his personal life even more difficult. So successful were they that the poet officially turned down the award. After that, he was left in relative peace and died two years later. He was but the first of many writers in the post-Stalin period to challenge the Soviet state. During the 1970s and 1980s, Pasternak's heritage was cautiously brought into public purview in the Soviet Union. The Gorbachev period saw the removal of all restrictions on his work, and publication of Doctor Zhivago followed at long last. Several major editions of Pasternak's writings have appeared.
Susan Sontag, an influential cultural critic with a Harvard master's degree in philosophy, is noted for taking radical positions and venturing outrageous interpretations. Proclaiming a "new sensibility," she supported the cause of pop art and underground films in the 1960s. Her reputation as a formidable critic has been established by numerous reviews, essays, and articles in the New York Review of Books, the N.Y. Times, Harper's, and other periodicals. Against Interpretation (1966) includes her controversial essay "Notes on Camp," first published in Partisan Review. The title of the book introduces her argument against what she sees as the distortion of an original work by the countless critics who bend it to their own interpretations. "The aim of all commentary on art," she writes, "should be to make works of art---and, by analogy, our own experience---more, rather than less, real to us." Sontag has a mature modernist sensibility, but manages to depict the avant-garde in language accessible to any reader. She has lectured extensively around the United States and has taught philosophy at Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, and Columbia. She is a frequent and popular television discussion personality, particularly on contemporary issues of illness or feminism, although many feminists are unhappy that she does not declare herself to be a "feminist critic." She is also, less successfully, a fiction writer.