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Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago, and the CIA

Interesting article this past weekend in the Washington Post about the role played by the CIA in publishing a Russian-language edition of the novel “Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak to help him secure the Nobel Prize. pasternak.jpg From the Post:

Tolstoy said that he tracked down the Russian emigre who typeset the book, found the publishing house that printed it, and interviewed ex-CIA operatives to unravel a web of agency deceptions behind the publication. The forthcoming book “has all concrete details,” said Tolstoy, who added he was not going to steal his own thunder by revealing all his evidence in advance of publication. The Soviets, certainly, had no doubt that the writer had Western promoters. “In the summer of 1958, a large campaign to award Pasternak a Nobel prize was initiated by Americans and launched in the West,” wrote a KGB official in a memo to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. “All reactionary and anti-Soviet forces took an active part in this campaign.” Pasternak won the prize on Oct. 23, 1958, “for his notable achievement in both contemporary poetry and the field of the great Russian narrative tradition.” “Infinitely grateful, moved, proud, amazed and confused,” wrote Pasternak in a telegram hurriedly sent to the Swedish Academy. “He was very happy for a few hours,” recounted his son. But Soviet authorities quickly unleashed a torrent of abuse on the celebrated author. He was forced to turn down the honor and was expelled from the Writers’ Union, where 29 members, including some old acquaintances, spoke against him. Tolstoy argues that the Nobel Prize kept Pasternak out of prison because such a punishment would have been too embarrassing internationally for the Soviets. “The KGB wanted to destroy him,” said Tolstoy. “A Russian publication and a Nobel Prize were necessary to save him.” That is an interpretation that Pasternak’s son contests. He said the writer’s health, already fragile, buckled under the official onslaught. Boris Pasternak died of cancer in 1960 at the age of 70. “Some of his friends believed that it would be fine if he got the prize one year later — the scandal would be over and everything would be quieter,” said his son, who accepted the honor on his father’s behalf in 1989. “I don’t know.”