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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Powerful and Moving as Dr. Zhivago; More Exciting than Many Spy Stories I Have Read
THE ZHIVAGO AFFAIR, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée brings us into a different world, the world of the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its height, its end unforeseen. The Soviet Union and the western powers—the United States, the United Kingdom—were battling for the minds and hearts of the world’s population on a number of fronts: space...
Published 5 months ago by Stephanie De Pue

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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars But a thriller should not need a lengthy prologue that reads like the author's thesis
A word of caution: I abandoned this book during the first chapter, so it is not a fair review of the work as a whole. It was advertised as a thriller and I bought it as such. Perhaps had I read further I would have found it was. But a thriller should not need a lengthy prologue that reads like the author's thesis: Boris Pasternak and his place in Soviet literature...
Published 3 months ago by G. M. Sinstadt


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Powerful and Moving as Dr. Zhivago; More Exciting than Many Spy Stories I Have Read, 29 Jun 2014
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book (Hardcover)
THE ZHIVAGO AFFAIR, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée brings us into a different world, the world of the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its height, its end unforeseen. The Soviet Union and the western powers—the United States, the United Kingdom—were battling for the minds and hearts of the world’s population on a number of fronts: space exploration, weaponry, medicine, the arts, literature.

Boris Pasternak was widely considered Russia’s greatest living poet, and every word he said, breathed, or thought influenced its population, much to the fury of its Communist masters, in particular the blood thirsty tyrant at the top, Joseph Stalin. Yet Pasternak’s powers were too great, and he lived, despite the Soviet’s shameful and shameless threatment of him. And although the Soviets destroyed his fellow poets Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova.

In May 1956, an Italian publishing functionary named D’Angelo took the train to a writers’ village just outside Moscow. According to his notes, he visited Pasternak, left carrying the original manuscript of the poet’s first and only novel, given to him with these words: “This is Doctor Zhivago. May it make its way around the world.” The poet believed his creation would never be published in the Soviet Union; the authorities considered it an attack on the 1917 Revolution without redeeming qualities. But Pasternak thought it might be accepted in the West and, indeed, from its beginning in Italy, Doctor Zhivago was widely published in translation. Ultimately, it would win the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, the world’s greatest prize in that area, and the Soviet government would not allow its author to accept it.

However, from there this book’s publishing history took an unexpected turn, as it entered the world of spies. America’s Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, knew that the Cold War was a war of ideas. It arranged to secretly publish a Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago and smuggle it back into the Soviet Union. Among other avenues, the CIA made use of the Vatican Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958, during the coldest of the cold war, when the pavilions of the US and the USSR glared at each other across a plaza. But the agency also sent copies back to the USSR with sailors, tourists, traveling academics. They were ravenously greeted in Moscow and Leningrad, copied again by hand, sold on the black market. The 1960 funeral of the poet, a charming, passionate and complex man, was attended by thousands of ordinary Russians, as well as the brave literary souls who defied their government.

Peter Finn is national security editor for The Washington Post and previously served as the Post’s Moscow bureau chief. Petra Couvée is a writer, translator and teacher at Saint Petersburg State University. They introduce us to Olga Ivinskaya, Pasternak’s longtime lover who was the model for Dr. Zhivago’s Lara. More importantly, they have been able to draw on recently declassified CIA files to make them the first to offer concrete proof of the agency’s involvement in this extraordinary process. THE ZHIVAGO AFFAIR is nearly as dramatic, powerful and moving as Pasternak’s novel DOCTOR ZHIVAGO itself, and more exciting than many spy novels I have read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "To drive men mad is a heroic thing.", 16 July 2014
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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When Russian poet Boris Pasternak wrote his only novel, Doctor Zhivago, he knew that its criticism of the Soviet revolution, though mild, would be enough to ensure that the book wouldn't get past the censors. So he decided to give it to an Italian publisher to be translated and published abroad despite knowing that this would be severely frowned upon by the authorities. However the CIA decided it would be a propaganda coup if they could have the book printed in Russian and smuggled back into the USSR. The Zhivago Affair is billed as the story of that CIA campaign and of the impact it had on the Soviet regime and on Pasternak himself.

Although the CIA campaign is given plenty of space, most of the book really takes the form of a biography of Pasternak. Already a highly regarded poet when he began writing his novel, Pasternak was also already seen as potentially dangerous to the regime and therefore his work was closely monitored, as was the work of most writers. The Soviet regime pampered its authors and intellectuals in comparison to other sectors of society, but punished any disloyalty harshly, with imprisonment in the gulags or even death on occasion. So from the moment it became known that he was writing the novel, Pasternak ran grave risks of bringing retribution down on himself and the people close to him.

I expected to find that I admired Pasternak - that he was a courageous man standing up for his beliefs against a regime that could crush him. Sadly, I came away from the book feeling that in fact he was an arrogant egoist, who cared little for anyone but himself and had no purpose in writing his book other than self-aggrandisement. Well, I can accept that - writers should not have to serve a higher calling any more than the rest of us, but then they shouldn't ask for special treatment either - and oh, how Pasternak felt that his amazing, unmatched genius (as he judged it) deserved to be recognised, honoured and lauded! He also felt that he was so special that he shouldn't be expected to live within commonly accepted standards, so kindly moved his mistress and her family in just down the road from his wife and own family and divided his time happily between them. Happily for him, that is - one felt the wife and mistress weren't quite so thrilled by the arrangement. But I think his level of self-centeredness is best shown by the fact that when he decided the only way out of the pressure over the book was suicide, he expected his mistress to kill herself along with him. To my amusement, the devoted but almost equally self-centred Ivinskaya was having none of it! And, denied his dramatically artistic and romantic exit, Pasternak decided to live on...

The CIA operation was dogged with incompetence from the outset (no big surprise there, I'm guessing) and also paid scant attention to the problems it may cause for Pasternak inside the USSR. However, they did in the end manage to smuggle some copies of the book in and, although the readership in the USSR was limited, the book became a huge bestseller internationally. This may have provided a level of protection for Pasternak since any severe action against him would have provoked international condemnation; and by the late '50s and early '60's, the Soviet regime cared a bit more about their international standing than they perhaps had a decade or two earlier. However, they did subject Pasternak to a number of restrictions and humiliations that made his life increasingly difficulty - they forced his peers to publicly condemn him and suspend him from the writers' union, which in turn meant that he couldn't get work. With no income, he was driven to trying to smuggle the royalties from the sale of the book in Europe into the USSR at great risk to himself and those he involved in the plan. And again Pasternak's selfishness and egoism can be seen at play here - too afraid to collect the money himself, he gave the task to the young daughter of his mistress, a task which later resulted in her spending time in prison - something Pasternak always managed to avoid for himself.

The book is well written and gives the impression of having been thoroughly researched. Despite my lack of sympathy for Pasternak, I enjoyed the biographical strand more than the CIA story and was glad that Pasternak's story got more space than the spy stuff. In case I've made it seem that the book is very critical of him, I must say that the authors' interpretation of Pasternak was considerably more sympathetic than my own, while not making any attempt to whitewash the less appealing aspects of his personality and behaviour. Overall, the book gave a clear picture of the difficulties faced by writers trying to operate under a regime of censorship backed up by fear, and some of the more moving moments were when the authors recounted the later thoughts of Pasternak's peers, regretting how they had allowed themselves to be manipulated into turning away from him at the height of the affair. An interesting and thought-provoking read - recommended. 4½ stars for me, so rounded up.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ... I heard this book had been published - a great companion to a classic story, 9 July 2014
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Just finished reading Dr Zhivago for the first time when I heard this book had been published - a great companion to a classic story. Cleverly written and thoroughly researched, this book provided a historical and social context which enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of the novel. Independently, this book has everything; rich social and historical narrative, biography and intrigue. Growing up aware of the cold war era, this book has provided knowledge and developed a desire to find out more! This is an enjoyable read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 30 July 2014
By 
Dr. J. D. Lewis (North Wales, UK.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book (Hardcover)
Have just received and after a cursory glance would seem exactly as described and what I was looking for.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 1 Aug 2014
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I'm halfway through but I'm enjoying it so far.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars But a thriller should not need a lengthy prologue that reads like the author's thesis, 11 Aug 2014
By 
G. M. Sinstadt - See all my reviews
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A word of caution: I abandoned this book during the first chapter, so it is not a fair review of the work as a whole. It was advertised as a thriller and I bought it as such. Perhaps had I read further I would have found it was. But a thriller should not need a lengthy prologue that reads like the author's thesis: Boris Pasternak and his place in Soviet literature with special reference to Doctor Zhivago.

In its place I took up Alan Furst's latest - Midnight in Europe. This is discursive, as much of this author's work is, but the narrative grips at once. A novel s story telling; we need the element of Once upon a time ....
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