27 February 2024

The CIA and Pasternak

Long term suspicions that the CIA had a hand in publicizing Doctor Zhivago have just been confirmed in a new book, The Zhivago Affair (see my article on Pasternak for the NYRB of July 10 and my Essays page). The unexpected appearance of this book, by American journalist, Peter Finn, and Dutch Slavist, Petra Couvee, was an unpleasant surprise for me at first, because I too had acquired copies of the relevant CIA documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, and was planning to write a book along similar lines. That said, Finn and Couvee's book is first-rate and ranges far beyond the CIA's role, which in retrospect was minor, to questions of Doctor Zhivago's composition, the role of Pasternak's mistress, Olga Ivinskaya, in influencing its contents and ensuring its publication, and Pasternak's heroic determination and fortitude in challenging and defeating the Soviet government at an advanced age. My full response can be found in the NYRB.