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Customer Review

15 of 15 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
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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