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The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Bookby Peter Finn
Synopses & Reviews
PETER FINN is a national security correspondent for The Washington Post, and previously served as the Post’s bureau chief in Moscow. He was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for the Post’s coverage of the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
PETRA COUVÉE is a writer, translator, and teacher. She has translated the work of numerous Russian writers into Dutch. She is an affiliated researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands and teaches Dutch each spring at Moscow State University.
"In brisk and thrilling fashion, Washington Post national security editor Finn and Saint Petersburg State University instructor CouvÃ©e take readers into the world of Soviet intelligentsia and shadowy Cold War politics to study how Boris Pasternak came to write and publish Doctor Zhivago (which first appeared in Italy in 1957). 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 CouvÃ©e, 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. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, Sagalyn Literary Agency. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Peter Finn is National Security Editor for The Washington Post and previously served as the Post’s bureau chief in Moscow.
Petra Couvée is a writer and translator and teaches at Saint Petersburg State University.
The Zhivago Affair is their first collaboration together.
About the Author
Table of Contents
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 Couvée 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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