From left to right: Mr Alexei Surkov, the man who tried to ban the book 'Dr Zhivago'; Lord Goodman, Chairman of the Arts Council; V I Koval; and Lord Hunt, leader of the British Everest team, at the first meeting of the Anglo-Soviet committee in 1970 in Surrey.

From left to right: Mr Alexei Surkov, the man who tried to ban the book 'Dr Zhivago'; Lord Goodman, Chairman of the Arts Council; V I Koval; and Lord Hunt, leader of the British Everest team, at the first meeting of the Anglo-Soviet committee in 1970 in Surrey.

The dramatic and little-known story of the publication of “Dr. Zhivago” and how the epic novel about the 1917 Russian Revolution became a secret CIA weapon between East and West during the Cold War.


  • Peter Finn National security editor and former Moscow bureau chief, The Washington Post.
  • Petra Couvee Writer and translator who teaches at St. Petersburg State University.

Read A Featured Excerpt

Excerpted from The Zhivago Affair by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée. Copyright © 2014 by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



  • 11:06:53

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. "Dr. Zhivago" was an epic novel. And then it became a blockbuster film. The story of its publication may be just as fascinating as the book itself. The author, Boris Pasternak, got the manuscript smuggled out of the Soviet Union in 1956. Two years later, the book found its way back into the country, thanks to the covert efforts of the CIA. Peter Finn and Petra Couvee relate this story of literary espionage in a new book, "The Zhivago Affair." Peter joins me here in the studio and Petra joins me from a studio at The Hague. Hello to both of you.

  • 11:07:37

    MR. PETER FINNHi, Tom. Great to be here.

  • 11:07:37


  • 11:07:40

    GJELTENAnd I think that just about everybody listening to this program has either read "Dr. Zhivago," or knows about it, or has seen the film. I'm sure you'll want to be part of this conversation. Our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email is If you'd prefer, you can also post something on our Facebook page or send us a tweet. Petra, let's start with you. You are an expert in Russian literature. Let's remind people, for those who haven't read "Dr. Zhivago," or might have forgotten the story, a tragic, romantic tale set in the time of the Russian Revolution. You know it well. Give us a very -- give us a tiny synapses of the book.

  • 11:08:27

    COUVEEWell, it's an epic novel. And it's the passionate life of a doctor-poet, Yuri Zhivago. It's actually Pasternak's alter ego. And it's set against the background of events in the 20th century. So that is the 1905 Revolution. It's the 1917 Revolution. It's the Civil War. It's the famine. And in the novel, Zhivago is -- he is the main protagonist. And he dies in 1929. And he's leaving behind a collection of poetry, which is his credo -- his artistic credo. It's 25 poems, and that's basically the last chapter of the book.

  • 11:09:19

    GJELTENNow, Petra, Zhivago himself, in this book, greeted the Revolution in Russia with some enthusiasm. But then soured on it fairly quickly.

  • 11:09:33

    FINNYeah. Very quickly. I mean that was -- basically he was enthusiastic in 1905, you know, the first Revolution. Then in 1917, he already saw, you know, what the consequences were. And, no, at the end, he saw that ideas of fanatic people, as he describes it, is not -- you know, doesn't have a very good result. And he said the basic thing is to stick to life, you know, and not to ideas.

  • 11:10:05

    GJELTENPeter Finn, Petra says that Dr. Zhivago was kind of an alter ego for Boris Pasternak, the author. On the other hand, there was an important difference between them, in that Pasternak remains committed to communism for a much longer period than the character Dr. Zhivago did.

  • 11:10:25

    FINNYeah. I don't think Pasternak became deeply hostile to what was going on until the purges, until the worst of the Stalin era began to surface. As late as 1936, he wrote a poem in praise of Stalin. But from that point on, he became more and more disillusioned. But he was never confrontational. He lived in the isolation of his own creativity. He didn't seek to publically express opposition. And what was, I think, so startling about "Dr. Zhivago," the book, was when it was read, people had never read something like this coming out of the Soviet Union before.

  • 11:11:08

    FINNYou know, it was teeming with life. It was indifferent to the Soviet literary forms. It was -- had a religious element. It question the Revolution. So for the Soviet literary bureaucrats who read it and banned it, they were horrified. For people in the West, it seemed an extraordinarily fresh and original work from the Soviet Union. So you had very diverse reactions to the novel.

  • 11:11:36

    GJELTENNow, Petra, when you say that Dr. Zhivago was an alter ego for Boris Pasternak, was that more in the sense of Pasternak sort of looking back at the Revolution at a time when he was already disenchanted with it. And is that the reason that he identified with Dr. Zhivago? That he, you know, in hindsight, thought a lot less of that revolution than he had at the time.

  • 11:12:02

    COUVEEYeah, you could say so. But he was an alter ego for Zhivago. He was also an alter ego of many of the other characters. I think Pasternak was everywhere in the whole novel. He was also in the women, you know, he described. So it was not only Zhivago who was disillusioned. There were many other peoples in -- people in the novel that were disillusioned as well. And he kind of, you know, when he's captured by the partisans, he kind of talks back to people who are still believing in the Revolution. And you really feel that he's -- I think he wanted a change in 1917.

  • 11:12:46

    COUVEEYou have to realize that, at the time when the Revolution started, 95 percent of the people in Russia were illiterate. So people really were desperately looking for a change. And I think Pasternak supported that. But when he saw that these people that were actually the executors of the Revolution were more into getting their own power, he didn't like that.

  • 11:13:12

    GJELTENAnd, Peter, you say that his whole approach as a writer was something that was completely out of line in the Soviet Union at the time. What were the pressures on writers, on artists, in those early years of the Soviet Union?

  • 11:13:27

    FINNWell, writers in the Soviet Union were organized into a union that was about 4,000 strong. There were certain principles called socialist realism that they were supposed to follow. And fiction, poetry and theater was supposed to be realistic. It was supposed to be an instrument to build Soviet man. And therefore, both the Kremlin and the writers -- the establishment writers, saw literature as an instrument of making this new society. It wasn't a thing for experimentation. It wasn't art for art's sake. That was regarded as decadent and bourgeois and Western. And this was a new paradigm that they were trying to create.

  • 11:14:11

    GJELTENAnd, Petra, what risks did Pasternak face as a result of writing this book and sort of promoting it, you know, looking for someone to publish it? At that time, what...

  • 11:14:23

    COUVEEWell, at that time, that's very hard to say, you know? It was after the death of Stalin. There was this kind of cultural climate. But there were thaws and freezes. So sometimes you had this month, actually, that people could say things easier than a little later. And Pasternak was very hopeful when he submitted his novel. And when he gave it to this Italian scout for an Italian publishing company, he thought, well, you know, you never know. But during the Stalin times, of course, people had paid with death, you know, if they published something that wasn't complying with the Soviet doctrine. So it was -- he knew it could have been very dangerous.

  • 11:15:13

    GJELTENIncluding his next-door neighbor.

  • 11:15:15

    COUVEEIncluding his next-door neighbor, Pilnyak, of course. He paid a high price. He was executed. That was at the Stalin terror. And his girlfriend, of course, you know, she was sent to a camp.

  • 11:15:30

    GJELTENMm-hmm. Now, Peter Finn, one of the things that you mention in the very beginning of the book, you and Petra, is that this Italian journalist -- I think he worked for Radio Moscow, but he was, as Petra said, he was sort of a scout looking for good books in Russian -- had read about the fact that this book was going to be published. Presumably he read about that in some official Soviet circle. So what's behind that? Was there actually a plan -- an official plan to publish this book?

  • 11:15:57

    FINNI think he heard it on -- it was a little bulletin on Radio Moscow where he worked. And I think it was an erroneous report.

  • 11:16:04


  • 11:16:04

    FINNPasternak had submitted the novel for publication. There had been a few of the poems from the novel that were published in an official journal. And the climate had changed post-Stalin. There was a certain optimism that this could happen. Pasternak, himself, was more skeptical. But this Italian, his name was Sergio D'Angelo. He's still alive. Charming man.

  • 11:16:28

    GJELTENDid you speak to him?

  • 11:16:28

    FINNWe did, yes.

  • 11:16:29


  • 11:16:29

    FINNHe lives in Viterbo near Rome, in Italy. And he went out to see him on the fly, because he agreed, while he was in the Soviet Union, he'd look for new writers. He heard about this novel. He came at a very opportune time, because Pasternak -- it had been six months since he submitted the novel. He had heard absolutely nothing. He, as I said, was skeptical all along that it might be published. So he decided he would give it to him. D'Angelo was the right man in that moment.

  • 11:17:00

    GJELTENAnd who was the Soviet official who was with him that day when they visited Pasternak?

  • 11:17:04

    FINNIt was a colleague at Radio Moscow. He didn't know how to reach Pasternak. He turned to one of his colleagues at Radio Moscow, said, I'd like to get in touch with Boris Pasternak. Can you arrange it? He arranged it. They went out on a Sunday. Spent a couple of hours in Pasternak's garden, chatting about this and that. And at the end of it, after Pasternak pondered this, I think, in his own head for some time, he gave him a copy of the novel.

  • 11:17:30

    GJELTENAnd, Petra, when you say a copy of the novel, I'm assuming it's a paper manuscript, right?

  • 11:17:35

    COUVEEYeah. It was paper. Yeah.

  • 11:17:36

    GJELTENAnd he just -- did he have to smuggle it out of the country, or?

  • 11:17:40

    COUVEENo. No, it wasn't. People say it was smuggled. Of course he didn't. It wasn't a smuggle. I mean, in Berlin -- he went to Berlin. He just put it in his suitcase and he thought it was okay. Feltrinelli was a communist publisher. So, no, it wasn't really smuggled. They smuggled it, you know, back in...

  • 11:18:02

    GJELTENBack in.

  • 11:18:03 19 -- no, but it wasn't really a smuggle.

  • 11:18:06

    FINNBut Pasternak, if I can just add, at that moment was aware of what was going on. And just as D'Angelo was leaving, said to him, you are hereby invited to my execution.

  • 11:18:17


  • 11:18:18

    FINNHe knew there was a risk.

  • 11:18:19

    GJELTENThen he certainly did.

  • 11:18:19


  • 11:18:21

    GJELTENOkay. Petra Couvee is a writer and translator and teaches at St. Petersburg State University. My other guest here in the studio is Peter Finn. He's the national security editor for The Washington Post, previously served as the Post's bureau chief in Moscow. And their new book is, "The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, The CIA, And The Battle Over A Forbidden Book." We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we're going to talk about this -- the most amazing part of this story, which is the role the CIA had in promoting this book. Stay tuned.

  • 11:20:00

    GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten and I'm sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about a new book that has just come out, "The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book." The co-authors of the book are with me here in the studio. Peter Finn from the Washington Post. He served as the Post's bureau chief in Moscow. And thence comes his interest in this story. And joining us on Skype from The Hague -- excuse me -- Petra Couvee. Petra's a writer and translator and she teaches at St. Petersburg State University. Excuse me.

  • 11:20:37

    GJELTENSo Petra, so the manuscript is delivered to this Italian book scout who then takes it back to Italy and turns it over to a communist publisher in Italy. And pick up the story from there.

  • 11:20:54

    COUVEEOkay. So they want to publish it. And what happens then is that in Russia -- or Soviet Union, the KGB is more or less informed and they don't like an uncensored manuscript out abroad. They didn't like that at all. So they are trying to get the manuscript back. And so the secretary of the union of writers is doing everything. He's putting Pasternak under pressure to get the manuscript back. He's writing telegrams to the publisher in his own Italian and then always after that he writes in French. Like, first he's writing a telegram, please, you know, send the manuscript back. But then he's writing a letter saying to his publisher, please don't do it. Just stick to your own fortune. Please publish it abroad. That's...

  • 11:21:56

    GJELTENYou say that he instructed the Italian publisher only to pay attention to what he wrote to him in French.

  • 11:22:01

    COUVEETo him -- yeah, right, in French. So what happens then is something very strange. So Feltrinelli, he agrees with postponing the publication because the Soviets are telling, okay we are planning on a publication which is censored or a little abridged, they said, in 1957. And Feltrinelli waits. But then they -- Surkov, the secretary of the Soviet Union of Writers, is going to Italy. He's going to Feltrinelli and they have a big row. And he says, okay I want to give it -- I want to have the manuscript now. But okay, Feltrinelli sticks to, you know, to his beliefs and he doesn't get it.

  • 11:22:52

    COUVEESo then there is this very strange situation that the Soviets are not going to publish and that Feltrinelli is going to publish . And in 1957, there is this Italian first edition of "Doctor Zhivago."

  • 11:23:13

    GJELTENSo Peter Finn, the first edition of "Doctor Zhivago," as Petra says, comes out in Italy in Italian. How -- what was the reaction to it at that time?

  • 11:23:23

    FINNIt was very, very well reviewed, first in Italy and then word began to spread. And gradually through 1958 other editions appeared first in French, then in German, then in English in the UK and the United States. And the reviews continued to be overwhelmingly positive.

  • 11:23:43

    GJELTENNow tell us the story then of how the CIA gets involved in this.

  • 11:23:48

    FINNSo after the Italian publication -- and it was well publicized that this book was banned in the Soviet Union and that was an element clearly in its popularity. It was a best seller in Italy. The CIA became aware of it. British intelligence secured a copy of the novel and sent two rolls of film...

  • 11:24:11

    GJELTEN...the original Russian.

  • 11:24:12

    FINN...the original Russian, to CIA. The book was read at CIA with great enthusiasm. And obviously the Soviet Russia division at CIA was peopled with people who spoke and read Russian fluently. They decided they would like to print this book to get it back into the Soviet Union. And over the course of the next several months between early 1958 and September, 1958 when it appeared, there was an elaborate, sometimes chaotic operation to get the book printed.

  • 11:24:48

    FINNIt appeared finally at the Brussels World's Fair in September, 1958. And that was a CIA target for a single reason. One, a huge group of Soviet visitors had gotten visas to attend the fair, 16,000 in all. And that's a highly unusual number of soviets to be visiting the west for one event. So they saw it as an ideal location to distribute the book.

  • 11:25:15

    GJELTENAnd, in fact, those Soviet -- Petra, those Soviet visitors grabbed it, right?

  • 11:25:20

    COUVEEThey grabbed it. Sure, they did. They went to the Pavilion of the Holy See, which is the Vatican pavilion. And so they were lured in because there was a statue of Rhoda (sp?) and in their guides, they made special guidebooks for them, and they said, well the only reason to visit is to see Rhoda. But they went there and they were encountered by priests. And they led them to a hidden library. And they could get Bibles and all sorts of literature for free. And among that was "Doctor Zhivago." And they got it and they -- you know, they smuggled it back into the Soviet Union.

  • 11:26:06

    GJELTENSo it seems -- from what the -- the story that you're telling us here, Peter and Petra, is that the really important event here is the appearance of this book in Russian. Because you were saying, Peter, it's already come out, right. And at least at that point what other languages had...

  • 11:26:21

    FINNOh multiple, multiple European languages.

  • 11:26:23

    GJELTENAll right. So this was already a well-known book but it had not yet come out in Russian. So...

  • 11:26:27

    FINNNo. And that was why the CIA was interested. This book was banned in Russia. It, in fact, would never appear in Russia until the 1980s when Gorbachev came to power. So -- and there is a wider context here. The CIA believed in the power of literature to effect change. And over the course of the Cold War it underwrote to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, millions and millions of books and journals and magazines and their translation into Russian and other eastern European languages. And those books were sent in.

  • 11:27:04

    FINNWhat effect they had? We know individual testimony says they had some effect. But for the CIA it was just a form of cultural warfare.

  • 11:27:14

    COUVEEYeah, I found -- I'm sorry -- I found one of these copies in Russia that was smuggled in in 1959 already.

  • 11:27:23

    GJELTENWell, speaking of that, so how did you find -- because -- and, Peter, correct me if I'm wrong -- but was it you, Petra, who first got a tip that in fact the CIA was involved in this?

  • 11:27:34

    COUVEEYes, that was true.

  • 11:27:35

    GJELTENCan you tell...

  • 11:27:36

    COUVEEI was writing on the story already in 1997. And I found a mention somewhere in an article that there was this mysterious Russian first edition that was printed in The Hague. So I wrote my first article and that was based on all kind of research and material. But -- and it was mysterious. So I already had this guess there was a secret service behind it, but I couldn't find any acknowledgement. And then my first article was brought to the Dutch television. And one of the viewers was actually a Dutch secret agent.

  • 11:28:17

    COUVEEAnd I was introduced by him by a journalist but he was a little worried. And he said, well I first want to see her article. And then he was convinced and I could -- you know, I could talk to him. And then he acknowledged that this was a CIA operation. And I asked him for the documents. I said, can I ever find these documents? He said, no way, Ms. Couvee, no way.

  • 11:28:41

    GJELTENDo we know where these films of the original Russian version came from that were delivered? You said, Peter, by British intelligence to the CIA.

  • 11:28:52

    FINNThere are potentially multiple sources. I mean, there were numerous manuscripts circulating in Britain with the publisher, with Isaiah Berlin, with George Katkov, who was supervising the translation, with the Pasternak family. So any number of -- there were any number of places where British intelligence could've gotten a copy. But it -- their role -- I mean, Petra mentioned the CIA role had been rumored and speculated upon almost from the outset.

  • 11:29:22

    GJELTENYeah. Now, one of the -- in the course of reporting this, you got the CIA to declassify a number of documents or share documents about this episode with you, including a memo from the head of the Soviet Russian Division John Maury saying this. "Pasternak’s humanistic message, that every person is entitled to a private life and deserves respect as a human being, irrespective of the extent of his political loyalty or contribution to the state, poses a fundamental challenge to the Soviet ethic of sacrifice of the individual to the Communist system," That's a pretty sensible observation.

  • 11:30:03

    FINNI think this book was very closely read within CIA by the Russian speakers in that division. And John Maury was someone who had served in the Soviet Union during World War II. He had deep experience with Russia. The division was also peopled with first and second generation Russians who had fled the Bolsheviks. And they were obviously hugely enthusiastic about this breath of fresh air, this novel, something like which they had not seen before.

  • 11:30:33

    GJELTENWell, can I ask you, your personal reaction or feeling to this news, the revelation that the CIA was involved in this? Do you see that as troubling in any sense or is it completely understandable given sort of the ideological conflict that was going on at the time?

  • 11:30:50

    FINNYeah, I mean, I am fine with it. I mean, it has been the subject of some debate. And the CIA's role in subsidizing cultural activities in western Europe in democracies has been, I think, more controversial and that debate more pitched than the book program, which was simply an effort to get literature -- and not only literature but books on art history, sociology, psychology into the Soviet Union. That was less controversial than what was going on, which was a parallel program in western Europe.

  • 11:31:26

    GJELTENBut Petra, you found that there really was an effort to keep this a secret. They did not -- the people behind this did not want the hand of the U.S. government revealed.

  • 11:31:37

    COUVEENo, not at all. I tried -- I remember that I phoned the home affair and tried to get access to the day to day, sort of the secret service files. And I kept asking them and, you know, putting them on the pressure but they said there's no way you're going to find this. And whenever the CIA is involved, there's no way you'll find anything. And the Dutch didn't want to, well, really -- well, they wanted to cooperate but they said there's no way you'll find anything, no.

  • 11:32:08

    FINNAnd there was a reason for secrecy at the beginning. The British warned the CIA, do not publish this in the United States. Do not let there be any visible American involvement. And that is to protect Pasternak. And the translator gave them the same warning.

  • 11:32:24

    GJELTENPeter Finn is national security editor for the Washington Post, previously the Post bureau chief in Moscow. And a co-author of the new book "The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, the Battle Over a Forbidden Book," his other author is Petra Couvee. They both join me here today. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:32:46

    GJELTENSo Peter, you mentioned -- this is the part that's really interesting to me. The book already was a best seller before the CIA got involved. And nevertheless, you write that in your judgment it would've had only a small elite readership were it not -- well, in that case you were saying, were it not for the fact that the Soviet Union got so upset about this. But how do we know? I mean, how do we know, one, what the reaction to this book would've been if the Soviet Union had not gotten -- the Soviet authorities had not gotten so upset? And two, how do we know what the reaction would've been if the CIA had not gotten involved?

  • 11:33:24

    FINNWell, on the first, I think it's an educated guess. Russian literature -- epic Russian literature generally were not best sellers at that time. And publishers love the word banned. And, you know, this book was trumpeted in many of -- much of the news coverage as something that was banned in the USSR and therefore people became intrigued. And it was also an intellectual, sometimes difficult book to read. But the amount of coverage, the positive reviews led people to buy it in numbers that they might not have. And the Soviet Union, at various times, did consider a small print run. If they had done that we might have a different history today.

  • 11:34:08

    GJELTENWell, Petra Couvee, Peter just said this is a difficult book to read. A lot of the attention that this book got obviously derived from its political importance. As someone who is very familiar with Russian literature, what's your -- you know, what's your sense of the quality of this book strictly from a literary point of view? What's your analysis of the book from that perspective?

  • 11:34:31

    COUVEEOh, let me say, I love the book. I mean, I love all of Pasternak's writing. I don't really see a big difference between his poetry, his novel or his letters. He's a genius in every bit. It's a novel of ideas. It's not all story. You know, it's not a novel -- a psychological novel. So what I love about Zhivago is you can just open the book and start reading in it. It's always interesting. But I have to say, Pasternak was very -- well, let's say impressionistic or associative in his writing. So sometimes he's a little dark. But sometimes he comes into the clear and then he says great things.

  • 11:35:15

    COUVEEAnd, yeah, I find it a very beautiful novel. And I'm not so sure -- I mean, it will always have an audience, not as big as it had, you know, because of the fact that it was banned. I'm teaching at a university. When I ask my students, do you read "Doctor Zhivago," well, not all of them read it, you know. So it's a little forgotten but it has -- it still has a readership. Mostly the people that read it when it was forbidden, you know, these people are getting back to it most of the time.

  • 11:35:50

    GJELTENPeter, I asked you this during the break. You had to work very hard to get the CIA to release these documents, but that just seems to be the default reaction from that agency to release anything. What's your sense of how reluctant they were, or in the end sort of eager to share this story?

  • 11:36:07

    FINNWell, when I first approached the agency in 2009, the Office of Public Affairs, and the response I got was no, this was after I had written a memo on the potential book that could be written. I didn't know what led to that no or why that no came because they don't explain that. I then went to former CIA officers around town. Both of us know there's a large community here. I spoke to them about the project.

  • 11:36:35

    FINNThey then brought it to people in the Historical Collections Division at CIA. The historians at CIA became interested. They went and looked, found what they had and they shepherded the release through the internal process. How difficult or easy that was for them, I'm not sure. This remains -- that part -- the release of the material remains opaque.

  • 11:36:58

    GJELTENIs the agency now happy that the book is out and are they cooperating, you know?

  • 11:37:01

    FINNYeah, I mean, the agency has posted all of these documents on its website at And, yeah, I think they're happy the story is out. I only wish that they would release more material. So much material about the cultural Cold War remains classified.

  • 11:37:19

    GJELTENPeter Finn is the co-author of "The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, The CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book." The other author is Petra Couvee. She's joining us from The Hague. We're going to take a short break right now. When we come back, your calls. Stay tuned.

  • 11:39:58

    GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're talking with the co-authors of a new book, "The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, The C.I.A., And The Battle Over a Forbidden Book." The authors are Peter Finn, who was the Washington Post bureau chief in Moscow. And his co-author is Petra Couvee. She's a writer and translator and teaches at St. Petersburg State University.

  • 11:40:21

    GJELTENAnd we'd like to have your input into this conversation as well. Remember our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. You can send us emails to or join us on Facebook or Twitter. So, Peter, let's pick up the story now. After the book is published, Pasternak wins the Nobel Prize for "Doctor Zhivago." How did the Soviet authorities react to his winning the Nobel Prize?

  • 11:40:54

    FINNThey regarded it as an anti-Soviet provocation. They were incredibly hostile to that decision and had lobbied against it before it happened. And within a day or two of the announcement of the award, they started, essentially, a 24/7 campaign of vilification against Pasternak, calling him a traitor and a Judaist. And keying off the fact that he was Jewish, there was an anti-Sematic element to this. And it -- the campaign became so intense that it led Pasternak to renounce the Prize.

  • 11:41:31

    FINNAnd it forced him to the brink of suicide. And meanwhile, across the globe, there was utter astonishment at the violence that was being visited upon this old man. At this point, Pasternak is 68 years of age. And that, I think, in the end, led the campaign to die down. But it was one of -- it was an extraordinary week.

  • 11:41:53

    GJELTENWell, and, Petra Couvee, so what was it like then for Boris Pasternak? How did his life change after the huge commercial success and uproar around "Doctor Zhivago," and him winning the Nobel Prize, and Peter just said that he was vilified in the Soviet press.

  • 11:42:10


  • 11:42:10

    GJELTENHe knew the example of what happened to other artists who were vilified. What was it like for him in the next couple of years?

  • 11:42:17

    COUVEEWell, he was world famous, but very alone, in his own village, you know. People turned his back to him and he felt very bad, but he received a lot of letters from all the people around the globe. First of all, he -- they didn't allow to have them. You know, he didn't get them. But later on he could get them. And he read them. And he answered them. And he was very happy because he was, you know, he was in contact with all kinds of people.

  • 11:42:49

    COUVEEAnd only lived two more years. So he enjoyed his fame. And I think he kind of survived pretty well because a year after, you know, he was going back to public life again. So it was very short, actually.

  • 11:43:10

    GJELTENIt was very short, but he got the recognition that he felt he deserved. Because one of the points you both make is that he was convinced from the beginning that this was a great literary product.

  • 11:43:23


  • 11:43:23

    FINNAnd nothing mattered to him more than publication.

  • 11:43:25


  • 11:43:26

    FINNHe was willing to risk any personal sacrifice. Willing, in fact, to risk sacrifices by his family to get this book out. This, for him, was his final artistic statement in life. And more important than any of the poetry he had written over a lifetime.

  • 11:43:44

    GJELTENLet's go now to Ellen, who's on the line from Ann Arbor, Mich. Hello, Ellen. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:43:50

    ELLENHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm just curious if Pasternak ever got any money for "Doctor Zhivago." And what -- how was that arranged? If it was banned in the Soviet Union, then how could he get the money for it?

  • 11:44:07

    GJELTENDid he have a foreign bank account?

  • 11:44:08

    FINNWell, he earned a huge amount of money. And this is one of the most charged parts of the story. Feltrinelli and other friends arranged to have the money smuggled in. They thought they were doing it secretly. Of course, the KGB was watching all of this. When Pasternak died the KGB struck again against Pasternak's lover, Olga Ivinskaya, who was charged with illegal currency trading. She was sent off to the gulag for the second time for her association with Pasternak.

  • 11:44:40

    GJELTENNow, you mentioned earlier, very briefly, Peter, that Feltrinelli, the first Italian publisher was not happy with the CIA's publication of this book. I mean, did he have the so-called foreign rights to this or, I mean, what was sort of the legal issues around who could publish Pasternak and what?

  • 11:45:04

    FINNYeah, Feltrinelli believed he had the worldwide rights, including the Russian rights. So when he saw this book appear in Brussels, he was furious. He sent a private detective up there. He sent a lawyer up there. And he quickly figured out who published it and he forced them to apologize publicly. And he immediately knew, I think, that there was some intelligent service involvement in this publication.

  • 11:45:28

    FINNAnd that -- he was completely opposed to that. Because of all the rumors around that first edition, the CIA, in the next edition it did, a miniature paperback edition, did it completely black with no outside involvement at all.

  • 11:45:45

    GJELTENAnd did the dispute with Feltrinelli get resolved? Did he get his share of the earnings?

  • 11:45:54

    FINNWell, that firm in the Netherlands agreed to print 5,000 more copies for him, as part of the compensation.

  • 11:46:02

    GJELTENOkay. Let's go now to Emily, who's on the line. Good morning. Hello, Emily. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:46:09

    EMILYThank you very much. What I wanted to ask, it was 10 years later, but what was the reaction of David Lean's film, "Doctor Zhivago?" Did it make a ripple at all in American/Russian relations or what?

  • 11:46:25

    FINNWell, the film was banned, as was the novel. In fact, the Soviets protested when the American embassy in Moscow had private screenings of the movie. I think the movie popularized the story in ways and brought a new audience that had not read the book, and also drove some people back to the book. So it was a huge, huge movie. It remains, in relative terms, one of the best-selling movies of all time.

  • 11:46:51

    GJELTENPetra Couvee, what was the reaction of Soviet artistic literary authorities after Pasternak died? Was there any sort of -- at what point -- because we've heard that actually the book is now published in Russia, right?

  • 11:47:08

    COUVEEYes, yeah.

  • 11:47:09

    GJELTENAt what point, sort of, did the attitude towards this book change?

  • 11:47:13

    COUVEEWell, the attitude to Pasternak changed really quickly. Because they felt there was an incredible image damage done, you know, because of the scandal and the novel scandal. So in the 1960s they already tried and decided to publish his poetry. I've heard from quite a lot of people that I've been speaking to in Russia, that they already read "Doctor Zhivago," in the Soviet times. So there were all sorts of, you know, manuscripts or even paper editions of "Doctor Zhivago."

  • 11:47:49

    COUVEESo lots of people already read it. And -- but it was only officially in 1988 that Novyi mir, so the official journey that had rejected "Doctor Zhivago," in 1955, decided to publish it. But, you know, lots of people read it.

  • 11:48:09

    GJELTENAnd, Peter, what's the view of Pasternak now?

  • 11:48:13

    FINNWell, I think Pasternak is regarded as part of the cannon. One of the most -- certainly…

  • 11:48:19

    GJELTENI mean in Russia.

  • 11:48:21

    FINNIn Russia, one of the most important and greatest poets of 20th century Russia. And is novel, as Petra noted, is not read so much by the younger generation, but is regarded as one of the great Russian novels, I think.

  • 11:48:35

    GJELTENLet's go now to Ophelia, who's on the line from Florida, Gainesville, Fla. Hello, Ophelia. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:48:43

    OPHELIAOh, hello to you.

  • 11:48:45

    GJELTENHave you read "Doctor Zhivago?"

  • 11:48:47

    OPHELIANo. But my comment is kind of interesting. My mother read it. And I was in -- we were in Cuba. I'm Cuba-born. And it was at the end of 1959. My father was a doctor. And he had a client, a patient who was a member of the U.S. embassy in Havana. And his patient, this American gentleman, said to my father he had a gift for him. And the gift was the novel, "Doctor Zhivago."

  • 11:49:17

    OPHELIANow, maybe your expert knows whether it was in Spanish or English, but my family couldn't read English very well. And my mother read it. And my comment was that every night she would talk about it at dinnertime. And eventually it was -- it made an influence in their decision to immigrate to the United States.

  • 11:49:34

    GJELTENWell, Ophelia, did they find parallels in the Zhivago story…

  • 11:49:40

    OPHELIAYes. This is a topic of conversation I heard, you know, at the dinner table. You know, I was rather young at the time. And so I heard that there were parallels. And, in fact, since my father was a doctor I think that made it even more appealing. But, yeah, the Cuban experience. And what was interesting to me when I was hearing your show was how the book reached us through a member of the U.S. embassy in Havana.

  • 11:50:05


  • 11:50:05

    FINNCertainly, by 1959 there was a Spanish edition. So -- but that's a wonderful story.

  • 11:50:10

    GJELTENAnd this goes to your point, Peter, that the, you know, the U.S. government was promoting this book, you know, all around the world.

  • 11:50:19

    FINNYeah, at a certain point the promotion of the book became much more overt. At the height of the Nobel crisis though, there was some sense within the U.S. government at the State Department and other places that they shouldn't overplay their hand, that they shouldn't be too crude about this, that this was a propaganda bonanza that was entirely manufactured in Moscow, so let's just let them at it. We don't need to add a whole lot to this, but let's just make sure this book gets out into the world.

  • 11:50:48

    GJELTENPetra, are Russian -- Peter made the point that younger Russians are less likely to have read this than older Russians. To what extent has this made its way into the curriculum of Russian schools?

  • 11:51:01

    COUVEERight. Now, that's a very good question. It isn't standardly, you know, included in the school program. They all read "War and Peace," when they are 12. And they all read, Sholokhov, you know, in "Quietly Flows the Don." He was Pasternak's opponent. They all read that. And that's a lot of pages. But "Doctor Zhivago," is not included. It's only rarely included. But they do all read his poetry.

  • 11:51:31

    GJELTENLet's go now to Hugh, who's on the line from Charlottesville, Va. Hello, Hugh. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:51:38

    HUGHHi. I'm fascinated by your show. "Doctor Zhivago," was my favorite book. I've read it seven times and I taught it many times in the AP European History class. And my question for your guests is like for them to comment on this. Every time I read the book I discover new details in it. In particular, the integration of Pasternak's poetry into the novel. And in particular, the poem, "A Candle Burns." So that's, you know, my question.

  • 11:52:06

    GJELTENOkay. All right. Let's -- Petra?

  • 11:52:07

    COUVEEThat's Peter's. That's Peter's favorite.

  • 11:52:11

    FINNIt is.

  • 11:52:11

    COUVEEPeter you can answer that.

  • 11:52:13

    FINNWell, that poem came out of an evening when the book was still being written.

  • 11:52:18


  • 11:52:18

    FINNAnd Pasternak went to a friend's house where he was to do a reading. It was an incredibly snowy night. There were drifts everywhere. They were having difficulty finding the place. And they saw a candle in the window and that inspired this particular poem.

  • 11:52:33


  • 11:52:35

    GJELTENWell, I'd be -- how long is the poem? I don't recall it from the book. Is it something that you can read?

  • 11:52:42

    FINNWell, I can certainly look here.

  • 11:52:43

    COUVEEBut we don't -- we didn't include the whole poem, right?

  • 11:52:46

    FINNNo. We just included a snippet.

  • 11:52:49

    GJELTENAnd while Peter's looking that up in the book, let me remind you that I'm Tom Gjelten. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, Petra, you said before that Pasternak was actually -- before "Doctor Zhivago" came out, he was known primarily as a poet.

  • 11:53:05


  • 11:53:05

    GJELTENAnd did he continue to write poetry afterwards?

  • 11:53:07

    COUVEEYes. Beautiful poetry. And he -- no -- well, yeah. He -- of course, he continued to write poetry, but what he took up after "Doctor Zhivago" was actually a theater play, which is called, "The Blind Beauty." And that was -- he didn't conclude it completely, but it was published after his death.

  • 11:53:30

    GJELTENAnd, Peter, do you have this poem that you say is your favorite?

  • 11:53:33

    FINNWell, I have -- I have a little snippet from it.

  • 11:53:35

    GJELTENAll the better.

  • 11:53:36

    FINNIt's a winter night, which is -- you can read at the back of "Doctor Zhivago," the last chapter. "It snowed. It snowed all over the world, from end to to end. A candle burned on the table. A candle burned."

  • 11:53:52

    GJELTENSo when there is a poem like this in the book, these are presented as Dr. Zhivago's poems.

  • 11:53:58


  • 11:53:58

    GJELTENBecause he was -- the character was that he was a poet.

  • 11:54:01

    FINNThese are the poems of Yuri Zhivago. And he had a creative burst of writing as he and Lara were together for the last time in the Urals towards the end of the book.

  • 11:54:13

    GJELTENOkay. Let's go now to Robert, who's on the line from Cincinnati, Ohio. Hello, Robert. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:54:22

    ROBERTHello, there. I'd like to support the last caller, Hugh. I extend the significance of Zhivago. I haven't read it seven times. I've read it four times. And taught it in three different decades in a course on Soviet history and politics. And in each time I taught, after having read it again, it became something entirely new. At first it was a love story. And then it was a history, a political history of the revolution. And lastly -- and I think this is a testament to Hugh, as poetry. Even in its prose sections. And that's why I think it will last forever.

  • 11:55:03


  • 11:55:03

    ROBERTThank you.

  • 11:55:04

    GJELTENThank you very much. So for both of you, so Robert taught this in the course of a course on politics, but Pasternak was sort of ambivalent about whether he wanted his book to be read as a political document, correct?

  • 11:55:19


  • 11:55:19

    FINNHe did not want it to be read as a political statement. Obviously, there is a political element in the book. But he felt that that was too reductionist. The people were simply pulling out those quotes and associating the entire experience of the book, which is…

  • 11:55:33


  • 11:55:34

    FINN…teaming with life, with these small political elements.

  • 11:55:38

    COUVEEYeah, if I may add to that. I mean, he was above politics, that's what he basically said. And that's what people extremely liked about him in Russia, that he said, "I'm apolitical." In a society where everything is political, that's very refreshing.

  • 11:55:53

    GJELTENDo you have any idea whether he suspected -- either one of you -- whether he suspected that some foreign intelligence service or the U.S. government had a hand in getting his book…

  • 11:56:01


  • 11:56:02

    GJELTEN…published in…

  • 11:56:03

    COUVEEHe suspected.

  • 11:56:04

    GJELTENHe did?

  • 11:56:04

    FINNWell, he knew that…

  • 11:56:05

    COUVEESorry. He -- yeah.

  • 11:56:05

    FINN… emigres -- that Russian emigre groups were in -- he suspected they were involved in this publication. And it's not a great leap to -- from there, to know that the U.S. government was behind some of these Russian emigre groups. And he read a Der Spiegel article about what happened in Brussels. So while he probably never read the word CIA or he never knew CIA explicitly, he knew that there was some shenanigans going on around this publication.

  • 11:56:33

    GJELTENAnd for all the shenanigans going on around this publication, he did not leave the Soviet Union. He die there.

  • 11:56:40


  • 11:56:40

    GJELTENAs you said, Petra, two years later. It's a fascinating story. The book is, "The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, The C.I.A., And The Battle Over a Forbidden Book." The co-authors are Peter Finn, he is a national security editor for the Washington Post and previously he was the Post's bureau chief in Moscow. And his partner, his collaborator in this book is Petra Couvee.

  • 11:57:01

    GJELTENShe is a writer and translator and teaches at St. Petersburg State University. The book, "The Zhivago Affair," you can read an excerpt of it on our website. This has been very interesting. Thank you so much for coming in.

  • 11:57:12

    FINNThank you, Tom.

  • 11:57:13

    COUVEEThank you very much.

  • 11:57:14

    GJELTENAnd thanks to our listeners. I'm Tom Gjelten.

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