Monday, June 02, 2014

A Look Into The Doctor's Black Bag - Review of "The Zhivago Affair" by Peter Finn

I have been under the care of Dr. Yuri Zhivago since the eponymous film by David Lean hit the movie theaters in 1965.   The film changed my life in more ways than one.  On one level, it introduced me to the complexities of life in Russia and sparked a fascination with that part of the world that still flames to this day.  It triggered my desire to dive deeply into the sea of great Russian novels, short stories, poems and plays that has greatly enriched my literary life.  When Pasternak's novel became available to me in English translation, I consumed it.  I soon realized that as good as the movie portrayal had been of Dr. Zhivago's life, loves and art, the novel that shook the USSR was even richer and broader in its themes and artistry.

Little did I appreciate the cost to Boris Pasternak of writing this work of art that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature and also won him the scorn of his government and many of his colleagues - at least on the surface and in official pronouncements.  This book, "The Zhivago Affair," sheds valuable light on the dark intrigues that took place in Russia, Italy, U.S., The Netherlands and Sweden in getting this book into the hands of readers around the world.

Using broad-based research, author Peter Finn reveals the role of the CIA in pushing for publication, and the role of the Kremlin in trying to squelch Pasternak and his treasonous novel.  The book introduces a dense cast of players - fellow writers, publishers, government functionaries, family members and clandestine operatives.  There is also a fascinating examination of the widely divergent views of artistic freedom and propaganda - as seen from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The book is as well written as it is meticulously researched.  I am grateful for the role that this book plays in drawing aside the curtain of secrecy and revealing how one of the great works of literature of the 20th century came to see the light of day.



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