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

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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: 134,153

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

"Beautifully crafted and scrupulously researched...Finn and Couvee have taken a complex and difficult history with many moving parts and turned it into a kind of intellectual thriller. They have to control a lot of information, yet they keep the book well-paced and often exciting. "The Zhivago Affair" is a prime example of hard work and fidelity to a good story." --"Washington Post " "A work of deep historical research that reads a little like Le Carre, this is the backstory of the foreign publication of Boris Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago," and it bears its multiple burdens lightly: a sideways biography of Pasternak; a psychological history of Soviet Russia; a powerful argument for the book as literature; an entry into the too-small canon on the CIA's role in shaping culture. In new reporting on the Agency's distribution of the book behind enemy lines, the authors show how both sides in the Cold War used literary prestige as a weapon without resorting to cheap moral equivalency." --"New York " "Fascinating...Told in its entirety, the story of how "Doctor Zhivago "helped disrupt the Soviet Union holds some intriguing implications for the present and future of cultural conflict." --"The Atlantic " ""The Zhivago Affair "does a masterful job of putting flesh on the bare bones of a story that has been hinted at in the press for decades." --NPR "A rich and unanticipated story...[Finn and Couvee] demonstrate a sophisticated appreciation for an artistic quest that was haunted by dread, persecution, and loss. They also share an avid eye for detail...Finn and Couvee's poignant depiction of Pasternak is the book's greatest strength." --The Daily Beast "[Finn and Couvee's] riveting, well-researched book reads like a literary thriller...a fascinating essay on mid-century politics...illuminating, humane." --"New Republic ""An informative, fascinating, and often moving account of personal courage, espionage and propaganda, and the role of literature in the political struggle for the hearts and minds of people." --"Huffington Post " "Crushingly poignant." --"Knoxville News Sentinel " "Thrilling...Deftly combining biography, cultural history and literary tittle-tattle, [Finn and Couvee] have shone a light on a shadowy operation...Crushingly poignant." --"Newsday " "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 detailed reconstruction of one of the most fascinating of the Cold War's cultural skirmishes..."The Zhivago Affair" ought to bring a new generation of readers to it, curious to know what kind of a novel could make a superpower tremble." --Tablet "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" "It is quite simply a remarkable story and fully sourced book, the scholarship peerless but never eclipsing one amazingly humanist story of a towering figure of 20th century Russian literature." --New York Journal of Books "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 minds of millions of people, introducing a cast of characters--poets and spies, idealists and cynics, politicians and dissidents--who could have stepped out of the pages of "Doctor Zhivago" itself." --Michael Dobbs, author of "Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, ""and""Truman--from World War to Cold War" "A sparkling and fascinating account of how one of the most important novels of the twentieth century found its way back to Russia, a juggernaut of truth thrust into the Soviet darkness. Finn and Couvee elegantly and authoritatively capture Pasternak's brilliance, the courage of his friends, and the CIA's hidden role in bringing the forbidden book to Russian readers." --David E. Hoffman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy" "The most detailed account to date of the events that suddenly placed one of Russia's greatest poets in the center of the struggle between Soviet and Western propaganda machines at the height of the Cold War. Pasternak's personal courage in the face of this totally incongruous conflict is the quality that emerges most clearly from this well-paced narrative, which is especially commendable for its avoidance of all romantic exaggeration--a quality Pasternak himself strove for in "Doctor Zhivago." The book is of great relevance today, when such conflicts seem (but only seem) to have disappeared." --Richard Pevear, co-translator of "Doctor Zhivago"

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