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

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  969 ratings  ·  191 reviews
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
Hardcover, First Edition, 352 pages
Published June 17th 2014 by Pantheon (first published June 2014)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  969 ratings  ·  191 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Dr. Zhivago is one of my husbands favorite movies, a very unusual pick for him because he usually likes ironic comedies. I remember reading this in school but had no idea of the history behind the novel nor of the man who wrote it.

This is a non fiction book that reads in may ways as a thriller. The fate of many of the writers under Stalin was very oppressive, although Russians had a great love of poetry, if that which was written was thought not to be in the service of Soviet politic
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Pasternak began to write Doctor Zhivago on a block of water-marked paper from the desk of a dead man. The paper was a gift from the widow of Titsian Tabidze, the Georgian poet who was arrested, tortured, and executed in 1937. Pasternak felt the weight of those empty pages...

He was solely a poet up to this moment. Famous in his nation, worshiped, sought after as a mentor, a lover; for his signature on that important protest one was firing off to the Party directorate. He was rewarded more with renown than rZhivago
I liked this book. Clearly an immense amount of research lies behind the writing of the book. Quotes galore that say exactly what so many contemporaries thought, said and wrote about the famed Russian poet Boris Pasternak, his first novel Doctor Zhivago and those close to him, i.e. his wives, children and beloved mistress. It begins by focusing on the years prior to the writing of the novel, that is during the 30s and 40s, then life under the repressive Soviet regimes of Stalin and Khrushchev. It focuses upon th ...more
Roman Clodia
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If anyone thinks that books are just stories, fictional entertainment, then pass them this book. Finn uncovers the way in which Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago became a weapon to both sides in the Cold War as both Soviet Russia and the US battled to win 'hearts and minds'.

With access to previously secret CIA files, there's a slight air of the romp/heist about this - if it weren't for the very serious import and impact 'the Zhivago affair' had on peoples' lives. The account of Americans secretly fund
Rebecca Budd
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, literature, politics
“Oh, what a love it was, utterly free, unique, like nothing else on earth! Their thoughts were like other people’s songs.”Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

Words hold power.

A story is more powerful.

That was my thought as I read, “The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book” by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée.

I confess that when I first read Doctor Zhivago and watched Omar Sharif fall desperately in love with Julie Christ
Helga Cohen
The Zhivago Affair tells the interesting story of how Dr Zhivago written by a well-known Russian poet, Boris Pasternak got published around the world against the wishes of the country. This story is being told after declassified documents were released.

It was in 1956, that an Italian publisher went to Pasternak’s house near Moscow and left with a copy of the original manuscript of Dr Zhivago. It was the poet’s only novel. It took him 10 years to write under the watchful eyes of Stalin. It was
Jan 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an enlightening account of the life of Boris Pasternak and his defense of literary truth. It is also a story of espionage and the CIA's use of the book, Dr. Zhivago, as a weapon during the cold war. It is a good read in spite of all those difficult Russian names.
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Another nonfiction book that had a magazine article's worth of interestingness. The part about Pasternak's life was somewhat interesting, but the 'Cold War battle' stuff was mind-numbingly boring. Bailed just before the halfway point. Oh and it didn't help that the audio was narrated by Simon Vance, whose affected, dulcet voice and accent suits novels about Tudor England to a T but jarred and annoyed here.
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, history
What a fantastic and fascinating read! It blew my mind. I am so fortunate to live in a time and place where anyone can write anything they like. From the little reviews I write here to the great American novels to.... Fifty Shades. Ha, ha, ha. It all has an equal chance at publication and sale!

The title says it all, with the intrigue and all: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book. Not only was Doctor Zhivago banned by the USSR, but Boris Pasternak and hi
BBC Book of the Week July 07

It's 1956 and 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.

By 1958 the life of this extraordinary book enters the/>
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Pasternak was the first citizen of the USSR to publish abroad. Doctor Zhivago was considered "anti-Soviet" and Pasternak, though a well known and well loved poet was thrown out of the Writer's a Union, interrogated by the KGB as a subversive and shunned by friends and neighbors. He gave the manuscript to leftist Italian journalist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli who was the first publisher and through whom the novel was made available for translation and publication in many countries long before it was ...more
Dec 22, 2013 marked it as to-read
Of course, to read this I really need to read Dr. Zhivago! Every winter I mean to and every winter I don't get around to it.
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Dr Zhivago is one of those books that is very well known but which few people have actually read. Better known for the iconic film based on it, it nevertheless has a special place in our consciousness and holds an important position in literary history. (And in truth its literary merits are indeed open to debate.) Peter Finn, a journalist with the Washington Post, and Petra Couvée, an academic and translator of Russian literature, have uncovered a story as exciting as any thriller – the story of ...more
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Pasternak seems like an emotional idiot. This book was fascinating though.
victor harris
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-history
Best book I have read this year. An amazing story of how Pasternak's masterpiece was smuggled out of the Soviet Union by an Italian communist to be published in Italy. Adding to the layers of intrigue is how the CIA sponsored editions to be smuggled back into the Soviet Union where Dr. Zhivago was a source of controversy from its publication in 1958 into the post-Cold War era. Once highly regarded as a poet, Pasternak was harassed and persecuted by the Soviet government following the publication ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jakub Swiatczak
As somebody who smuggled copies of Animal Farm and Darkness at Noon from England to Poland at the end of the seventies, I ended up with a very emotional relationship with this book.
To all the critics of Pasternak's choices, I can only say that he showed immense integrity and courage and should be commended.

The book is very well written, minutely researched and reads like crime fiction. Definitely recommended.
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
By Peter Finn and Petra Couvee. Portrait of Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak and a time when literature had the power to shake the world.
David Kinchen
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Zhivago Affair': Publication of Novel Banned in the U.S.S.R. Reads Like a Spy Story


This is "Doctor Zhivago". May it make its way around the world. -- Boris Pasternak, presenting the manuscript of "Doctor Zhivago" to an Italian publisher's representative, Sergio D'Angelo, on May 20, 1956, at Pasternak's dacha in Peredelkino, outside Moscow

* * *

If there's one thing Russians take seriously, it is literature. In Czarist R
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
An interesting story of how Dr. Zhivago came to be published. Even though he was renowned in Soviet Russia as a poet, Pasternak knew as he was writing his epic that it would never be published in his homeland. It took him ten years to finish writing it and he had been reading excerpts to various friends and colleagues and the response was usually that he should quit and not expect such a controversial thing to get past the censors and Stalin. Still, he knew it was great and when an Italian publi ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved the movie, which prompted me to pick up the book. And both of those prompted me to check this out because I knew at a high level it had initially been published outside the Soviet Union because it was controversial for reasons that weren't clear me, but that the extent of my knowledge. This book explains just how autobiographical the novel is, which I hadn't realized, and why it was so political. It was a fascinating insight into Soviet society and culture in the late 50s and seems parti ...more
Oct 11, 2017 rated it liked it
It’s a nice read. The only interesting thing for me was finding out about the origin of the novel’s title. Even at school the teacher never explained why it’s Zhivago. Before reading the book, I watched a couple of documentaries in Russian and the contents were almost the same as in the novel; apart from the CIA part which I did not find that interesting.
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
“To drive men mad is a heroic thing.”

When Russian poet Boris Pasternak wrote his only novel, Doctor Zhivago, he knew that its criticism of the Soviet revolution, though mild, would be enough to ensure that the book wouldn’t get past the censors. So he decided to give it to an Italian publisher to be translated and published abroad despite knowing that this would be severely frowned upon by the authorities. However the CIA decided it would be a propaganda coup if they could have the book printed in Rus
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Who would have ever guessed that the CIA was behind the publication and distribution of Dr. Zhivago? Here is the back story of Pasternak's agonies with the Soviet government. Now I want to re-read the book. (I wonder how different it will seem than the last time, which was when I was in high school...)
Rich Yavorsky
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks." --Joseph Stalin

What a read! Part biography, part literature, part romance, part international espionage: 'TZA' delivers a non-fictional account of Doctor Zhivago's coming-to-be that I couldn't put down. To see how much DZ mirrored Pasternak's actual life, and what impact Pasternak's work had on his family/second 'family'/country/world literature is profound. With its New Yorker vocabulary and fastidious journal
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In The Zhivago Affair, Peter Finn and Petra Couvee have achieved several useful things. We have a thumbnail biography of Dr. Zhivago author Boris Pasternak. A peek into the evils of Stalinist Russia and a somewhat subtle effort by America’s new spy agency to peacefully subvert the aesthetically blind Communist empire. Each of these is an interesting story but the writing can be leaden. In this case it is the story that justifies the book not so much the story telling. Recommended for fans of Pas ...more
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
More reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.

If this book were a web article, I'd call the title clickbait, because it's pretty misleading. After taking a class about Soviet and CIA operations during the Cold War a few years ago, I've been drawn to true spy stories, and thought this would be another one. It's really not. In fact, The Zhivago Affair isn't really about the Kremlin, the Cia, or the battle over a forbidden book. It's more about the book itself and the reaction to it, b
Chris Craddock
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Boris the Writer

At the Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi the host nation staged a tribute to Russian Writers:

1. Alexander Pushkin
2. Lev Tolstoy
3. Fyodor Dostoevsky
4. Nikolai Gogol
5. Ivan Turgenev
6. Anton Chekhov
7. Vladimir Mayakovsky
8. Anna Akhmatova
9. Marina Tsvetaeva
10. Joseph Brodsky
11. Mikhail Bulgakov
12. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Many of these authors were considered subversive and w
Dec 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This book was gripping. It brought me to tears.

It has been said that when people do not understand something they grow angry at the object of their confusion and do everything in their power to destroy it. No other motive would explain the Kremlin's brutal and relentless bullying of Boris Pasternak for his novel, Doctor Zhivago. He was even forced to turn down a Nobel Prize due to pressure from his government. In the words of the Moroccan newspaper al-Alam, no matter what charges the Soviet
Dan Schiff
Sep 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Despite this book's promise of revealing newly declassified information on how the CIA aided in the publication and distribution of Doctor Zhivago, that is not the most interesting aspect of The Zhivago Affair by any means. In fact, the machinations of the intelligence community and twisty details on the book's publication seem rather pedestrian when compared to Finn and Couvee's descriptions of artistic censorship in the Soviet Union, even within the artistic community.

Boris Pasternak is a fas
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“The publication of Doctor Zhivago in the West in 1957 and the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Boris Pasternak the following year triggered one of the greatest cultural storms of the Cold War. Because of the enduring appeal of the novel, and the 1965 David Lean film based on it, Doctor Zhivago remains a landmark piece of fiction. Yet few readers know the trials of its birth and how the novel galvanized a world largely divided between the competing ideologies of two superpowers.” 1 likes
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