The Zhivago Affair

The Zhivago Affair

The Zhivago Affair

“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 Christie, all I was interested in was the love story.  I was young and unfamiliar with the traumatic events of the time in which the narrative was positioned.  I knew that there was some conflict, but, in my view, it was dramatic background material that served to move the characters around a stage.

The Zhivago Affair sent me scurrying back to reread parts of the original novel.  My eyes were opened.  Indeed, there was a passionate and profoundly moving love story – one that I had missed completely.   That is, the love of Boris Pasternak for his beloved Russia.  Boris Pasternak wrote Doctor Zhivago, knowing that his life was in danger.

“You are hereby invited,” he said, “to my execution.” Boris Pasternak

The Zhivago Affair is a page-turner.  It’s complex, exciting, poignant.   Peter Finn and Petra Couvée have crafted an extraordinary account of how a book can be used by powerful nations to wage political battles and influence the course of history. The reviews have been enthusiastic; descriptions include, masterful, thrilling, rich, scrupulously researched.

A word about the authors: Peter Finn is National Security Editor for The Washington Post (previously stationed in Moscow as the Post’s bureau chief); Petra Couvée is a writer and translator; she teaches at Saint Petersburg State University.

My greatest takeaway from reading The Zhivago Affair, was an understanding of Boris Pasternak’s life, his loves, his hopes and fears.

“I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and of little value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”  Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

A special thank you to Elisabeth van der Meer from  A Russian Affair for rekindling my interest in Russian literature.