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The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book [Kindle Edition]

Peter Finn , Petra CouvÉE
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)

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Kindle Price: $13.99
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Book Description

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.)

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews


“Beautifully crafted and scrupulously researched. . . . A kind of intellectual thriller. . . . Well-paced and exciting.” —Alan Furst, The Washington Post
“A fascinating book that is thoroughly researched, extraordinarily accurate in its factual details, judicious in its judgments, and destined to remain the definitive work on the subject for a very long time to come.” —New York Review of Books

“Riveting, well-researched . . . Reads like a literary thriller.” —The New Republic

“A rich and unanticipated story. . . . Finn and Couvée’s poignant depiction of Pasternak is the book’s greatest strength.” —The Daily Beast

“A work of deep historical research that reads a little like Le Carré. . . . The authors show how both sides in the Cold War used literary prestige as a weapon without resorting to cheap moral equivalency.” —New York

“An informative, fascinating, and often moving account of personal courage, espionage and propaganda, and the role of literature in the political struggle for the hearts and minds of people.” —Huffington Post

“Thrilling. . . . Deftly combining biography, cultural history and literary tittle-tattle, [Finn and Couvée] have shone a light on a shadowy operation. . . . Crushingly poignant.” —Newsday

“Fascinating. . . . The story of how Doctor Zhivago helped disrupt the Soviet Union holds some intriguing implications for the present and future of cultural conflict.” —The Atlantic

 “A remarkable story and fully sourced book, the scholarship peerless but never eclipsing one amazingly humanist story of a towering figure.” —New York Journal of Books

“The authors persuasively argue that the ripples from the publication of this single book affected not only the author, his family and his friends, but also changed the balance of power in the world during a critical period.” — Columbus Dispatch

 “A galloping page-turner and a stark picture of a nation ruled by terror and unreason, which reads like a sinister rewrite of Alice in Wonderland.” —Sunday Times (London)

“Extraordinary. . . . There is much to think about in The Zhivago Affair: the nature of genius; the terror that leads people to betray friends; and, above all, the potency of fiction. . . . The Zhivago Affair reveals the story of that triumph with vibrant authenticity and calm analysis.” —The Independent on Sunday (London)

“Excellent, superbly researched, and as exciting in its way as any Cold War thriller. Pasternak himself emerges clearly and strongly in all his complexity. This was the most important literary controversy of the post-war world, and Finn and Couvée have presented it with immense care and colour. The aftermath of the affair still has resonance even now.” —John Simpson, BBC News
“Finn and Couvée deal objectively with the characters involved and tell the story with exceptional vivacity.” —Literary Review
“Fascinating… [Finn and Couvée] manage to shed new light on both the period and the characters involved.” —Financial Times
“An extraordinary, gripping tale of art and espionage, The Zhivago Affair embodies the belief shared by its flamboyant cast of geniuses, barbarians, lovers and eccentrics: books matter.” —A. D. Miller, author of Snowdrops

About the Author

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.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Look Into The Doctor's Black Bag June 2, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have been under the care of Dr. Yuri Zhivago since the eponymous film by David Lean hit the movie theaters in 1965. The film changed my life in more ways than one. One one level, it introduced me to the complexities of life in Russia and sparked a fascination with that part of the world that still flames to this day. It triggered my desire to dive deeply into the sea of great Russian novels,short stories, poems and plays that. When Pasternak's novel was available to me in English translation, I consumed it. I soon realized that as good as the movie portrayal had been of Dr. Zhivago's life, loves and art, the novel that shook the USSR was richer and broader in its themes and artistry.

Little did I appreciate the cost to Boris Pasternak of writing this work of art that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature and also won him the scorn of his government and many of his colleagues - at least on the surface and in official pronouncements. This book, "The Zhivago Affair," sheds valuable light on the dark intrigues that took place in Russia, Italy, U.S., The Netherlands and Sweden in getting this book into the hands of readers around the world.

Using broad-based research, author Peter Finn reveals the role of the CIA in pushing for publication, and the role of the Kremlin in trying to squelch Pasternak and his treasonous novel. There is a dense cast of players - fellow writers, publishers, government functionaries, family members and clandestine operatives. There is also a fascinating examination of the widely divergent views of artistic freedom and propaganda - as seen from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The book is as well written as it is meticulously researched. I am grateful for the role that this book plays in drawing aside the curtain and revealing how one of the great works of literature of the 20th century came to see the light of day.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
“Doctor Zhivago” is a beloved literary novel by Russian (he was writing long before the Soviet Union came into existence) poet, Boris Pasternak. The author’s tale of life and struggle during, and after, the 1917 October Revolution went on to win the Nobel Prize (which Pasternak was forced to decline), to be made in an immensely popular film, was simply too independent in its thinking for the thought police within the Soviet Union.

The book “The Zhivago Affair”, while slowly paced, tells the story of how Pasternak was inspired to write it, how it impacted those around him and how enraged the Soviet Union became by this novel, which led to horrible treatment of a man who was one his country’s literary giants. “The Zhivago Affair” chronicles how the CIA saw the propaganda potential in such a high profile work that did not paint the 1917 Revolution with rose-colored glasses.

With a depth that is surprising for such a short book, “The Zhivago Affair”, effectively demonstrates how 600 pages of literature became one of the bigger battlegrounds of the Cold War.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This interesting book tells the story of how the novel Dr Zhivago came into being and was published and spread around the world. The author, Boris Pasternak, was well-known as a poet who lived through the Stalinist terror and somehow survived, despite mostly refusing to kowtow to the regime. He was never a political figure but behaved for the most part in a principled way.

He worked on his novel, which was a distillation of his feelings about the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Communist regime and life and love in general, for many years. It was not an avowedly political work but unlikely to be acceptable to the regime, even after the death of Stalin, because it took a skeptical and individualistic approach to the revolution and placed personal freedom above loyalty to the proletariat, the state and all the tenets of Communism.

We also learn a lot about Pasternak's two difficult marriages and his love affairs. He basically supported two households, remaining with his cantankerous wife while maintaining long relationship with another much younger woman, both obviously being aware of the other.

In 1956, an Italian publishing representative visited Pasternak in his writers' village near Moscow and left carrying the manuscript of Dr Zhivago. Pasternak handed over the book with the words, "This is Dr Zhivago. May it make its way around the world."

It was published by Giagiacomo Feltrinelli, an Italian communist with a eye for the commercial opportunity who resisted all pressure to suppress it. (His interesting and sad story is also told in these pages.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the book it claims to be August 2, 2014
Boris Pasternak was a famous and beloved Russian poet until he wrote Dr. Zhivago. Then he became infamous and reviled as an enemy of the Soviet Union. That sums up over 90% of this book. The CIA's successful scheme to publish the book in Russian and smuggle it into the USSR constitutes about 5%. It's a decent book on it's own merits, just not the one advertised.

The first few chapters describe Pasternak's upbringing and his poetry, for which he was famous in Russia. He gave very popular readings, and was nominated for a Nobel Prize starting in the late 1940s. The book then covers the years he spent writing Dr. Zhivago. Although married, he began a love affair which continued for the rest of his life, and this woman became a model for Lara in the novel. He apparently both expected the Soviet government to refuse to publish the book and was bewildered by its decision. Much of the rest of the book concerns the somewhat ineffective Kremlin efforts to suppress the novel and to repudiate Pasternak. His lover was imprisoned on account of his work, twice, he had to renounce his Nobel Prize, and he lost his livelihood as a writer. Yet the authorities chose not to deport him, or send him to prison. I was surprised at how much access he had to Western Europeans and Americans, and at how often he offered to placate the bureaucrats but then managed to infuriate them in the process.

The authors have done commendable research. Their portrait of Pasternak is surprisingly unflattering. Regardless of his literary standing, he seems to have been self-absorbed, over-wrought, unfaithful, incredibly naive, and reckless about the comfort and freedom of those around him.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating story
So interesting to know the story, suffering & struggle behind the film in a closed & oppressive society
Published 19 days ago by Andrea Price
3.0 out of 5 stars CIA / Kremlin Angle Overhyped: Not much of it in the book
Written well enough but the CIA / Kremlin angle is not much of the book. It is much more of a kind of biography of the author. Read more
Published 19 days ago by AMH
3.0 out of 5 stars I certainly would have liked to reach the end a bit faster
The book seemed to drag on and on. While the overall story was interesting, I certainly would have liked to reach the end a bit faster. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read for those who loved DR Zhivago the book and the movie.
My curiosity about the subject was satisfied and the jouralistic style was in top form.. Those interested in the Russian character and international shenanigans will be happy with... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Cassandra
2.0 out of 5 stars A much of a muchness. Sloppy work; inexcusable ...
A much of a muchness.
Sloppy work; inexcusable, incomplete translation on page 57.
Either the author or the editor should have taken more care. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Donald H. Goodyear, Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very detailed background on the Cold War you forget how important the book was
Published 2 months ago by Thomas M. Marsh
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Too many hard russian names to get through. Hard read
Published 2 months ago by DONNA HULATA
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
So much I did not know.
Published 2 months ago by Enrique A Alvarez-Buylla
4.0 out of 5 stars Under Zhivago
This is a revealing account of literature and politics behind the iron curtain. It is well researched and a fascinating read.
Published 2 months ago by gm
4.0 out of 5 stars A book everyone should read and decide for themselves
I don't have to buy/read this book. C. Peterson, in an attempt to keep the book reading public from reading the book, has told the story of the book, even in percentages of the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jay Bee
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