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The Secrets We Kept: The sensational Cold War spy thriller

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  51,818 ratings  ·  4,973 reviews
Two female spies. A banned masterpiece. A book that changed history.


1956. A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.

But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation.


The CIA plans to use the bo
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published September 5th 2019 by Hutchinson (first published September 3rd 2019)
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Lara Prescott
Lara Prescott - author, historical fiction, debut

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Lara Prescott I agree with Sherry! It is a masterpiece. But if you haven't read Zhivago, you won't be lost or lacking at all while reading The Secrets We Kept. …moreI agree with Sherry! It is a masterpiece. But if you haven't read Zhivago, you won't be lost or lacking at all while reading The Secrets We Kept. (less)
Daisy Peter Finn and Petra Couvée's The Zhivago Affair
Olga Invinskaya's A Captive of Time
Sergio D'Angelo's The Pasternak Affair
Elizabeth Peet McIntosh's Sis…more
Peter Finn and Petra Couvée's The Zhivago Affair
Olga Invinskaya's A Captive of Time
Sergio D'Angelo's The Pasternak Affair
Elizabeth Peet McIntosh's Sisterhood of Spies
David K. Johnson's The Lavender Scare

Inside the Zhivago Storm and Zhivago's Secret Journey by Paolo Mancosu
Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner
The Agency by John Ranelagh
The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stonor Saunders
The Georgetown Set by Gregg Herken
The Very Best Men by Evan Thomas
Hot Books in the Cold War by Alfred A. Reisch
The Spy and his CIA Brat by Carol Cini
Finks by Joel Whitney
Washington Confidential by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe
Feltrinelli by Carlo Feltrinelli and Alastair McEwen
*Lara by Anna Pasternak*
Safe Conduct by Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak: The Tragic Years, 1930-60 by Evgeny Pasternak
Boris Pasternak: The Poet and His Politics by Lazar Fleischman
Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography by Christopher Barnes
Boris Pasternak: Family Correspondence translated by Nicholas Pasternak Slater and Maya Slater
Fear and the Muse Kept Watch by Andy McSmith
The Nobel Prize by Yuri Krotkov
Inside the Soviet Writers' Union by Carol and John Garrard

(*I read this before The Secret We Kept and I loved it.)(less)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  51,818 ratings  ·  4,973 reviews

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DNF’d at 38%

I was expecting a suspenseful spy novel, but what I got was thinly disguised romance/chick-lit. It's all too common with historical fiction in recent years, and why I struggle with the genre.

The love affair between Pasternak and Olga left me cold, the alternating narratives in the West chapters were confusing, the secretarial pool characters lacked depth, and the writing style was simplistic. Frankly, I was bored silly.
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Lara Prescott weaves a fascinating tale of espionage during the Cold War using Boris Pasternak’s book Dr Zhivago as the basis for her debut thriller. Dr Zhivago is a book that was banned in Pasternak’s homeland - the Soviet Union. People are willing to die for this book, but on the other side of the coin there are agents prepared to kill for it too!

Set both in the East and the West, our two main protagonists Sally Forrester and Irina Drozdov work in the CIA typing pool, a very male dominated env
Dorie  - Cats&Books :)

I am going to change my rating on this book to a 3.5 rounded up to a 4 star book. I love books about spies, particularly women spies so I had really high expectations for this book. I had some problems with the flow, back and forth between what was happening with the author of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, in the East and what was going on in the West, centering on the CIA and how it planned to use the book as a “weapon” against the Soviets.

All in
Nilufer Ozmekik
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Here we go! A thrilling espionage story about secret spy typist women agents at the Cold War era, shaping around creating process of Doctor Zhivago and its writer’s tumultuous, mind-blowing love story with his muse and mistress Olga! Da! Count me in! Already opened a new bottle of Chardonnay to being accompanied with this page-turner! Nazdarovya!

So CIA captures the copies of Doctor Zhivago and uses thi
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
I didn't think it was possible to write a novel containing spies that completely lacks mystery or intrigue, but alas. So much promise, but it completely falls flat since it leans on totally hollow characters. ...more
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Taking place during the pinnacle of the Cold War, accomplished and well educated women were relegated to the typing pool at the CIA by the old boy network while their male counterparts began careers. Two unique women whom excel at keeping secrets become spies tasked with obtaining the manuscript of Dr. Zhivago for publication in the west since the Soviet State finds the content offensive and will not publish. Moving between the east and the west there are two love stories, dangerous missions and ...more
I feel like I’m in a bit of a reading slump. ☹️ This book sounded like a plot line that would interest me: Set in the Cold War two secretaries are tasked by the CIA to smuggle the novel Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR. Sounds cool, right?! I was expecting a faster pace and this just read so slow. 😬 I listened to the audiobook and it would put me to sleep in the middle of the day. 😴
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
Sep 12, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Well I made it up to the 62% point until I flung this book into the dnf pile. I am pretty annoyed that what I thought I was reading, a spy drama concerning the bringing of the book Dr Zhivago to the west and publishing it as a cautionary tale against a totalitarian regime, became nothing but a chick lit story.

What is happening to the historical fiction genre when fictional characters are so included that they ruin a wonderful premise and make it into something that is barely historical and major

”Sometimes they’d refer to us not by name but by hair color or body type: Blondie, Red, Tits. We had our secret names for them, too: Grabber, Coffee Breath, Teeth.
“They would call us girls, but we were not.
“We came to the Agency by way of Radcliffe, Vassar, Smith. We were the first daughters of our families to earn degrees. Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly plans. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was ‘Can you type?’”

Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 - I’m in the minority of GR readers on this book, but I barely got through it. The writing was simplistic, the characters two dimensional, and the story often warped into melodrama, especially during the Russian chapters. Didn’t care about any of it.
Kate Quinn
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Got a chance to read this one for a cover quote, and I will definitely be offering one. It's terrific! ...more
Jun 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I realy enjoyed this book , it is beautiful but also heartbreaking and I loved every second of it , now I want to read dr zhivago , 4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Jul 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-clubs
2.5 stars, rounded up
I will admit to never having read Doctor Zhivago. And my memories of the movie had it as more romantic than political. But in reality, the book painted a dim picture of Russia during and after the revolution and was not published in Russia until 1987. The Secrets We Kept is based on the true story of how the CIA smuggled copies of the book into Russia.
Chapters alternate between an unnamed secretary, Olga, Pasternak’s mistress and Irena and Sally, who were both spies. The se
Picture Mad Men set in the early days of the CIA with an equal dose of historical fiction at the sunset of Stalin's reign over the Soviet Union. I found both sections highly engaging and couldn't flip the pages fast enough. I was a little unsure if I would like this book given that so much of it was focused on Dr. Zhivago (which I haven't read yet, but it's been on my shelf since my Russian History college days so now I will definitely read it soon), so I didn't know if a lot of it would go over ...more
Aug 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Much has been said about this book, it has been ‘hyped’ ( not a great word but its as it is ) and spoken about as ‘THE book of the year’ and various other platitudes
The book is all about ( trying to keep this as simple as can ) Doctor Zhivago, the author of it, his lover, how the book was banned and how America managed to get the book published and into Russia ( all based on fact ) intermingled with fiction re the ‘spies’ of the 1950’s, the ‘typists’ of the American Govt, who saw all and said no
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, novel-company
I went into this book knowing very little about it and very little about the subject matter. I've never read Doctor Zhivago, but that doesn't matter for this book. It's about the mission that the U.S. government put on in the 1950's to disseminate propaganda, in the form of anti-Soviet literature, within the Soviet Union. The novel puts, at its forefront, female typists in the U.S. government, some of whom are covert agents assisting in the mission.

The writing is fairly straight forward but st
Kristen Peyton
I got to page 200 and decided to quit on this one. The story was just too all over the place, too many characters with odd names, it was hard to keep them all straight... story was also told from random point of views that weren’t very clear cut on who was talking until half way into a chapter and then I felt like I missed a lot of what was going on.
Ashley Daviau
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book absolutely BLEW me off my feet! It is a stunning masterpiece. It has something for EVERYONE, trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this book. From espionage to banned books to politics to a love story, this book has it all. I was absolutely enthralled right from page one and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to immerse myself deeper into this beautiful story. I love the different viewpoints that were used, it really brought something special to the storytelling because we got to se ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A terrific, absorbing, multi-voiced spy novel centering around the women working for the CIA in the 1950s- specifically a young Russian-American secretary who is soon recruited for cloak and dagger work by an actual female "sparrow" (active agent) posing as a receptionist, the story accompanied throughout by the Greek Chorus of the typing pool, embodying both the female wisdom and also the self-limitation of women living in a system in which they cannot rise.

This story, "West," is played agains
Julie Christine
Brilliant. Just brilliant. Everything about this novel, from its premise — a fictionalized account of the true plot by the CIA to thwart communism through "cultural diplomacy"— to its the multiplicity of perspectives, including the Greek chorus CIA typing pool, the haunted Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya, imprisoned in a Gulag for her involvement with famed writer Boris Pasternak, the "Mad Men"-esque characters of Cold War Washington D.C., and their fashions, passions, parties — to the women who bec ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

TW: Sexual assault and some homophobia

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers/author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In the late 1950s, the CIA published Russian copies of Doctor Zhivago and smuggled them behind the Iron Curtain in order to spark an unrest among Soviet citizens. In The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott explores the women who may have helped the mission, as well as the intriguing relationship between Russian author Boris Pasternak and
This was a fun historical novel, set in the 1950s during the Cold War. The story followed several secretaries in the CIA, but my favorite scenes were set in Russia and revolved around the writer Boris Pasternak and his mistress. As part of a propaganda mission, the CIA hoped to smuggle Pasternak's manuscript Doctor Zhivago into the West and get it published before the Soviet censors could destroy it.

The novel has a big cast of characters, and each chapter follows a different person. I listened
(3.5) It’s the latest Reese Witherspoon book club selection and film rights have been sold to the producers of La La Land; if you haven’t already heard about The Secrets We Kept, you’ll be hearing a lot more soon. Prescott’s debut novel is an offbeat spy thriller set mostly in the 1950s and based on the international reception of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Considered to express anti-Soviet opinions, Pasternak’s love story is suppressed in his native country but published widely in Western ...more
Cheryl James
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like I loved this book more than I can say that I did. I just don't like the feeling of reading a book and being a little confused as to what I read. I know I read about the women as spies, the book that was published and should not have been, and all the secrets in between however I feel like I should have read the "Doctor Zhivago" (the actual book in the story) in order to get a full understanding. This is a true story and that is what really kept my interest. Just know that this book i ...more
Oct 09, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Awful. I should have known better than to believe the blurb, but Zhivago being a book dear to me, I thought it might illuminate an interesting part of the book´s path to publication and acclaim. Nowhere near that.
It´s chick lit, and very bad chick lit. The characters´ voices are interchangeable,besides being shallow,one dimensional and sometimes plain silly.The "romance" is badly done,the writing is choppy and repetitive.
The book (Zhivago) is just filler,even Pasternak and Olga are caricatures.
Literary Redhead
I first saw this book, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, on NetGalley and knew I had to read it. What a joy to find glorious historical fiction not set during WW II.

Prescott’s debut novel occurs during the Cold War, with chapters that flip between the CIA in the States and Russia — where Boris Pasternak (author of DR. ZHIVAGO) and lover Olga (inspiration for the character Lara), struggle to get his masterpiece published.

NYT critic Janet Maslin cal
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

There’s no secret that the Secrets We Kept is going to be a big hit this fall. It’s one of those books that I imagine publishers dream about – filled with true-to-life intrigue, touching upon little-known history, and presenting real-life and fictional characters that readers really care about.

Like most people, I’ve seen the movie Dr. Zhivago multiple times and it has never failed to captivate me (interestingly, I minored in Russian literature but never read the book). Although I was aware that
Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows)
I know. I know. I'm supposed to love this book more than I do. I've heard nothing but great things and have seen praises about this everywhere. It's even a Reese's Book Club selection and Book Expo Book Pick. The thing is, historical fiction is either a huge hit or a complete miss for me. This one kind of fell in the middle.

I loved the way the chapter headings made it easy to follow whose POV we were now seeing. The story of the typists, spies and the true story of Doctor Zhivago and how this ba
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dr. Zhivago fans, historical fiction
The Secrets We Kept is the fascinating tale of how the CIA plotted to smuggle Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago out of Soviet Russia. Similar to the novel this storyline is told from different people's viewpoints. The most fascinating and intriguing section is that of author Boris Pasternak and his mistress, Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya who are separated as Soviet fears grow over the writing and later, the release of the book. I just fell into their story and Olga is such a fascinating woman. As t ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
The female typists of the Cold War often played much more important roles, and those are here alongside the story of the publication of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, and the surrounding intrigue. This was a far more complex read than I expected but very interesting and well-researched.

This was in my eARC backlog; it actually came out in September and I'm behind.
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Lara Prescott's debut novel, THE SECRETS WE KEPT, is out September 3, 2019 from Alfred A. Knopf (US) and Hutchinson (UK), and will be translated into 29 languages.

Lara received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas in 2018. She grew up in Pennsylvania and studied political science at American University in Washington, D.C. Prior to writing fiction, Lara worked as

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