The Zhivago Affair by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

The Zhivago Affair; The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden BookThe Zhivago Affair; The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée; Pantheon Books/Random House, 2014. 352 pages; $26.95 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

When the celebrated poet Boris Pasternak began the novel Doctor Zhivago in 1945, he and his fellow Russian writers were living under the terrifying, watchful eye of Joseph Stalin.  Pasternak had lived through the exhilaration and the disillusionment of the 1917 October Revolution and he wanted to write a piece of fiction that would capture the events surrounding it, even if it meant revealing the historic flaws that continued to infect the repressive government under which he lived. When he finished Doctor Zhivago in 1955 it was (predictably) rejected by the Soviet press so Pasternak smuggled the manuscript into Italy to be translated and published. “It does not matter what might happen to me,” he told his friend, Isaiah Berlin. “My life is finished.  The book is my last word to the civilized world.” Doctor Zhivago made its way around the globe at warp speed, coming full circle in 1958 when the CIA ’s Russian-language edition was smuggled back into the Soviet Union for Pasternak’s countrymen to read. Based on newly released documents, Finn and Couvée’s account reads like a spy thriller with a deeply flawed but heroic writer at its center. History, Cold War politics, romance, intrigue…this book-about-a-book packs a punch.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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