The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book


By (author) Peter Finn, By (author) Petra Couvee

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  • Publisher: Pantheon Books
  • Format: Hardback | 352 pages
  • Dimensions: 152mm x 234mm x 36mm | 680g
  • Publication date: 17 June 2014
  • ISBN 10: 0307908003
  • ISBN 13: 9780307908001
  • Illustrations note: black & white plates
  • Sales rank: 200,933

Product description

"Drawing on newly declassified government files, this is the dramatic story of how a forbidden book in the Soviet Union became a secret CIA weapon in the ideological battle between East and West. " In May 1956, an Italian publishing scout took a train to a village just outside Moscow to visit Russia's greatest living poet, Boris Pasternak. He left carrying the original manuscript of Pasternak's first and only novel, entrusted to him with these words: "This is "Doctor Zhivago." May it make its way around the world." Pasternak believed his novel was unlikely ever to be published in the Soviet Union, where the authorities regarded it as an irredeemable assault on the 1917 Revolution. But he thought it stood a chance in the West and, indeed, beginning in Italy, "Doctor Zhivago" was widely published in translation throughout the world. From there the life of this extraordinary book entered the realm of the spy novel. The CIA, which recognized that the Cold War was above all an ideological battle, published a Russian-language edition of "Doctor Zhivago" and smuggled it into the Soviet Union. Copies were devoured in Moscow and Leningrad, sold on the black market, and passed surreptitiously from friend to friend. Pasternak's funeral in 1960 was attended by thousands of admirers who defied their government to bid him farewell. The example he set launched the great tradition of the writer-dissident in the Soviet Union. In "The Zhivago Affair, " Peter Finn and Petra CouvEe bring us intimately close to this charming, passionate, and complex artist. First to obtain CIA files providing concrete proof of the agency's involvement, the authors give us a literary thriller that takes us back to a fascinating period of the Cold War--to a time when literature had the power to stir the world. "(With 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.)"

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Author information

Peter Finn is National Security Editor for "The Washington Post" and previously served as the "Post"'s bureau chief in Moscow. Petra CouvEe is a writer and translator and teaches at Saint Petersburg State University. "The Zhivago Affair" is their first collaboration together.

Review quote

"Brisk and thrilling ... The authors use rich archival research, including previously classified CIA files, to depict the oppressive political conditions that gave rise to Pasternak's masterpiece, and the international firestorm that occurred when the novel was banned in the Soviet Union. The book offers nuanced depictions of the people in Pasternak's life, including his lover, Olga Ivinskaya, who championed his work and shared his torment at the hands of the KGB. The torturous ideological policing by the Soviets is discussed to great effect; for indeed, the tale of "Doctor Zhivago" itself is very much about the long psychic scar left by Russian Revolution. It's a story expertly told by Finn and Couvee, who unsparingly present the role played by the Kremlin in persecuting Pasternak and his loved ones, as well as the role of the CIA in using his masterpiece in a game of ideological warfare--overall, a triumphant reminder that truth is sometimes gloriously stranger than fiction." --"Publishers Weekly, " starred review "A fast-paced political thriller about a book that terrified a nation." --"Kirkus Reviews " "A riveting account . . . [Finn and Couveee] have drawn not only on archival documents and interviews with surviving actors in the international drama but also on newly declassified files of the Soviet, American, and Dutch intelligence services." --"Bookforum" "With groundbreaking reporting and character-rich storytelling, Peter Finn and Petra Couvee uncover the high-stakes drama behind one of the Cold War's strangest turning points. Passionately written and acutely aware of the historical context, "The Zhivago Affair" almost makes one nostalgic for a time when novels were so important that even the CIA cared about them." --Ken Kalfus, author of "A Disorder Peculiar to the Country" "A thrilling literary espionage yarn, but much more than that. Finn and Couvee shed new light on the Cold War struggle for the hearts and mind

Table of contents

Contents Prologue “This is Doctor Zhivago. May it make its way around the world.” 3 Chapter 1 “The roof over the whole of Russia has been torn off.” 19 Chapter 2 “Pasternak, without realizing it, entered the personal life of Stalin.” 31 Chapter 3 “I have arranged to meet you in a novel.” 47 Chapter 4 “You are aware of the anti--Soviet nature of the novel?” 61 Chapter 5 “Until it is finished, I am a fantastically, manically unfree man.” 75 Chapter 6 “Not to publish a novel like this would constitute a crime against culture.” 85 Chapter 7 “If this is freedom seen through Western eyes, well, I must say we have a different view of it.” 99 Chapter 8 “We tore a big hole in the Iron Curtain.” 115 Chapter 9 “We’ll do it black.” 129 Chapter 10 “He also looks the genius: raw nerves, misfortune, fatality.” 147 Chapter 11 “There would be no mercy, that was clear.” 161 Chapter 12 “Pasternak’s name spells war.” 179 Chapter 13 “I am lost like a beast in an enclosure.” 197 Chapter 14 “A college weekend with Russians” 211 Chapter 15 “An unbearably blue sky” 227 Chapter 16 “It’s too late for me to express regret that the book wasn’t published.” 243 Afterword 263 Acknowledgments 267 A Note on Sources 271 Notes 275 Bibliography 323 Index 335