The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book

Author(s): Peter Finn


1956. Boris Pasternak presses a manuscript into the hands of an Italian publishing scout with these words: 'This is Doctor Zhivago. May it make its way around the world.' Pasternak knew his novel would never be published in the Soviet Union as the authorities regarded it as seditious, so, instead, he allowed it to be published in translation all over the world - a highly dangerous act. 1958. The life of this extraordinary book enters the realms of the spy novel. The CIA, recognising that the Cold War was primarily an ideological battle, published Doctor Zhivago in Russian and smuggled it into the Soviet Union. It was immediately snapped up on the black market. Pasternak was later forced to renounce the Nobel Prize in Literature, igniting worldwide political scandal. With sole access to otherwise classified CIA files, The Zhivago Affair gives an irresistible portrait of Pasternak, and takes us deep into the Cold War, back to a time when literature had the power to shake the world.


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The dramatic story of how a forbidden book became a secret CIA weapon in the battle between East and West.

"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: From World War to Cold War "With ground-breaking 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, 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, finalist for the 2006 National Book Award "A sparkling and fascinating account of how one of the most important novels of the 20th century found its way back to Russia, a juggernaut of truth thrust into the Soviet darkness. Peter Finn and Petra 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 Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize "This is 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 and Larissa Volokhonsky, translators of Doctor Zhivago (2010)

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 his coverage of the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan. PETRA COUVEE 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.

General Fields

  • : 9781846558856
  • : Vintage
  • : Harvill Secker
  • : June 2014
  • : July 2014
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Peter Finn
  • : 368