The Zhivago Affair

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book
Peter Finn and Petra Couvée

In the twentieth century the Soviet Union was usually a bit behind the times, which helps explain why the poet Boris Pasternak’s only novel, Doctor Zhivago, caused such a stir when it was published (in Italy) in 1957. As this account of the controversy over Dr. Zhivago points out, “Pasternak lived in a society where novels, poems, an plays were hugely significant forms of communication,” not to mention one where art could still have real political impact. And so after the manuscript had been smuggled out of the country and published in translation the CIA took an interest in making the book “an important weapon of strategic (long-range) propaganda.” Their efforts led to Pasternak’s winning the Nobel Prize in 1958 (he had to refuse the award), and the ruffling of many Soviet feathers. For readers living after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the twilight of the book, the authors admit this may all seem a bit quaint today. It does, but it still makes for a story with the conflict, complexity, and personal and political drama of a Russian novel.