CIA Declassifies 99 Documents On Dr. Zhivago’s Publication
The agency wanted to reveal the shortcomings of Soviet life by publishing Boris Pasternak's novel in Russian
The CIA just released 99 documents which laid out its plan to publish “Doctor Zhivago” in Russian for the first time in 1958, which experts believe might have been part of an agency plot to reveal the shortcomings of Soviet life.
At the height of the Cold War, Moscow refused to publish Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” because it was seen as a criticism of Stalinism and Soviet society. The CIA saw an opportunity to start that discussion. In a cable dated March 27, 1959, the agency wrote:
“We feel that Dr. Zhivago is an excellent springboard for conversations with Soviets on the general theme of “Communism versus Freedom of Expression.”
The papers detail how the book was published in the Hague and smuggled into Russia via various channels. It was also distributed among Soviets in cities around Europe. The documents also show how the Soviet Writers’ Union−who had housed Pasternak, as they did other writers – turned on Pasternak because they felt he deceived them by initially publishing the book in Italy, but not sharing the spoils.
The agency’s release of Boris Pasternak’s Nobel-Prize-winning novel in the Soviet Union prompted its international popularity. The fact that the book won a Nobel Prize was not part of the CIA’s original plan, according to the CIA official statement on the release. It was, however, “a blow to those who insisted that the Soviets in 1958 enjoyed internal freedom,” the statement says.
The long and winding novel deals with a physician and poet named Yuri Zhivago and takes place between the Russian Revolution and World War I. It was originally published in Milan, Italy thanks to the Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, whose name is prevalent in the newly released documents.