How the CIA got Dr Zhivago into the hands of Soviet dissidents


Working from recently declassified documents disclosed in The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, the BBC World Service tells the extraordinary story of how the CIA conspired with a Dutch spy to publish a Russian edition of Boris Pasternak's Dr Zhivago and smuggle it into Russia by sneaking it into the hands of Soviet attendees at the Brussels Universal and International Exposition in 1958. Zhivago was banned by the Soviets, who also forced Pasternak to renounce the Nobel Prize in literature, which he was awarded that year.

The novel was handed to Soviet visitors, of which there were several thousand, by Russian emigres in a curtained-off part of the Vatican's pavilion at the Brussels fair.

"Soon the book's blue linen covers were found littering the fairgrounds. Some who got the novel were ripping off the cover, dividing the pages and stuffing them into their pockets to make the book easier to hide," The Zhivago Affair says.

Word of the operation reached Pasternak who wrote to a friend in Paris: "Is it true that Doctor Zhivago appeared in the original? It seems that visitors to the exhibition in Brussels have seen it."

Finn's co-author, Petra Couvee says an unknown number of the books are known to have reached Moscow.

"We have found one of the copies in the Russian state library. It was intercepted by the customs and it landed in the section of the special collections, which were the banned books," she says.

How the CIA secretly published Dr Zhivago [Martin Vennard/BBC World Service]

Notable Replies

  1. "Soon the book's blue linen covers were found littering the fairgrounds. Some who got the novel were ripping off the cover, dividing the pages and stuffing them into their pockets to make the book easier to hide," The Zhivago Affair says.

    I wonder if the person heading up the operation at the CIA gave any thought to producing and distributing it in a more easy to conceal and smuggle format, or if that would have been too James Bond even for them.

    Edited to add:

    Should have finished TFA before posting.

    ...the CIA decided to produce its own Russian-language, miniature paperback version in the US, under the name of a fake French publishing house.

    Copies of it were given to Soviet and East European students at the 1959 World Festival of Youth and Students in Vienna, which was sponsored by Communist organisations.

    The Soviet "researchers" who accompanied the young people from the USSR reportedly said: "Take it, read it, but by no means bring it home."

  2. There were all sorts of arts programs that the CIA was involved in during the Cold War. So many of the private, corporate foundations that were started in the postwar era were partial or entirely fronts for the CIA. I've been reading a fair about this stuff lately... This is just the tip of the iceberg:

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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