Description: Thanks to the superb David Lean film, Doctor Zhivago is known to millions. However, few know the full story of the publication (or non-publication) of the novel. For this revelatory and fascinating tale, Peter Finn and Petra Couvée obtained previously classified CIA documents that shed light on an unknown aspect of one of the 20th-century’s greatest books.
Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was a highly successful poet and translator in Russia before he penned his first novel. In 1956, while he was living in Peredelkino, a writer’s colony created by Stalin, he sent the novel to one of Russia’s most esteemed journals, Novy Mir, but it was rejected because it was deemed anti-Soviet.
Pasternak felt Doctor Zhivago was his greatest work and wanted it widely read; however, since 1929, no Russian author had broken the rule against foreign publication without approval from the authorities. When the opportunity to publish the book in Italy came along, the manuscript was smuggled into Milan and published in 1957. In 1958, the CIA’s books program printed a special Russian-language edition and secretly distributed it in the Vatican’s pavilion at the World’s Fair in Brussels. Copies began turning up in Russia, and additional copies were given to students, tourists, diplomats, even Russian truck drivers and sailors, to smuggle into the Soviet Union. This represented one of the first efforts by the CIA to leverage books as instruments of political warfare. The book’s growing popularity infuriated the Soviet government, and when Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in 1958, he had to decline it–had he accepted it, he could never return home. –Tom Lavoie, former publisher
1/5 Pasternak’s poetry is receiving rave reviews, and the Soviet leadership soon takes note.
2/5 Pasternak begins an affair with Olga Ivinskaya, which proves a dangerous move.
3/5 The Russian-language manuscript of Dr Zhivago arrives at CIA headquarters.
4/5 Illicit copies of Dr Zhivago are in great demand at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.
5/5 Pasternak is awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature but is forced to renounce it.
A rating of four Nobel medals