The U.S. intelligence agency saw the book as a challenge to
Communism and a way to make Soviet citizens question why their
government was suppressing one of their greatest writers,
according to newly declassified CIA documents that detail the
agency's involvement in the book's printing, the Post said.
The Soviet government had banned the novel and British
intelligence first recognized its propaganda value in 1958,
sending the CIA two rolls of film of its pages and suggesting it
be spread through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Moscow was both angered and embarrassed by the eventual success
of the novel and of David Lean's lavish 1965 movie version,
which won five Academy Awards and was nominated for best
Pasternak's romantic epic chronicles the life of Yuri Zhivago, a
physician and poet, and his love for two women through decades
of revolutions, wars, civil war and Communist oppression.
"Doctor Zhivago" had a religious, mystical tone and its main
character did not hew to official Marxist ideology.
Russian critics denounced Pasternak as a traitor and the Soviet
publishing industry would not touch it, but an Italian literary
scout took a copy of the manuscript out of the Soviet Union and
an Italian company published it in 1957.
Shortly afterwards, the CIA became involved, according to
recently declassified memos obtained by authors Peter Finn and
Petra Couvee in their research for the book "The Zhivago Affair:
The Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book,"
which will be released in June.
The Post's story was an adaptation of the Finn-Couvee book.
"CHALLENGE TO SOVIET ETHIC"
One of the CIA memos said "Dr. Zhivago" had high propaganda
value "not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking
nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication.
"We have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is
wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the
man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not
even available in his own country in his own language for his
own people to read," the memo said.
The CIA decided to have it published in foreign languages for
free distribution as a way to undermine the Soviet Union.
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"Pasternak's humanistic message — that every person is entitled to a
private life and deserves respect as a human being, irrespective of
the extent of his political loyalty or contribution to the state —
poses a fundamental challenge to the Soviet ethic of sacrifice of
the individual to the Communist system," John Maury, chief of the
agency's Soviet Russia Division, said in a memo, according to the
The CIA wanted to conceal the U.S. role in disseminating "Doctor
Zhivago" so it brought in a Dutch publishing house to print
Russian-language versions — even though the Italian publisher still
held the rights to the book.
The books were distributed across Europe with the primary target
being the 1958 Brussels Universal and International Exposition
because Moscow had issued visas for 16,000 Soviet citizens to
The CIA did not want the U.S. pavilion at the exposition to
distribute the 365 copies of the book so they were discreetly handed
to Soviet citizens visiting the Vatican's pavilion.
The books circulated widely among Soviet visitors to the exposition
and a CIA memo proclaimed the move a success.
Later the CIA engineered the publication of a miniature edition of
the novel — small enough to fit into a pocket and sometimes split
into two volumes to make it easier to conceal. Many of those
mini-books were distributed to young Soviets and Eastern Europeans
at a youth conference in Vienna in 1959.
With the CIA's help, "Doctor Zhivago" eventually reached Moscow and
Soviet satellite countries, passed from hand to hand.
Pasternak, who was also a leading poet, won the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1958 and the English-language version of "Doctor
Zhivago" spent six months atop the New York Times best-seller list
in 1958 and 1959.
Pasternak stayed in Russia up to his death in 1960 at the age of 70
after suffering from heart problems and lung cancer.
(Writing by Bill Trott; editing by Jim Loney and Gareth Jones)
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