Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The CIA and Doctor Zhivago

The CIA has recently declassified documents relevant to its role in the publication of Doctor Zhivago:

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Central Intelligence Agency on Friday, April 11th posted to its public website nearly 100 declassified documents that detail the CIA’s role in publishing the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago after the book had been banned in the Soviet Union. The 1958 publication of Boris Pasternak’s iconic novel in Russian gave people within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe the opportunity to read the book for the first time.

The point was to provoke the Russian people into wondering what was wrong with their government that a major book by one of their greatest living authors was available everywhere except in the Soviet Union. That sounds rather a roundabout strategy, but it turned out to be reasonably successful -- it led to Pasternak winning the Nobel Prize for literature and the novel being a worldwide phenomenon, which provided the CIA what it needed to start funneling copies into the Soviet Union on the black market. Indeed, it was almost too successful; so much attention guaranteed that people started tracing back sources and suspected that the CIA had a hand in it. The National Post has an article discussing the matter.


  1. MrsDarwin7:45 AM

    I read Dr. Zhivago my senior year of high school, when I was working through the "classics" shelf at the library. I didn't much like it -- unlike the Russians, with whom the revolutionary overtones of the story doubtless resonated strongly, I could not get past Zhivago throwing over his faithful, and sympatico, wife for Lara, and the whole book left a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps I should read it again, but adultery is one of those things that taints a story so much for me that, unless the destructive force of it is clearly a focus of the novel, as in Anna Karenina, I can't fully appreciate what other merits a book may have.

  2. branemrys8:22 AM

    I think I read it once, and I have a copy on my shelves, but for the life of me I can't remember anything about it.

  3. Enbrethiliel9:09 AM


    The same thing tainted the movie for me when I saw it. My heart really broke for Tonya. =(

    Since then (although I have no plans to get to the novel), I've wondered why the love triangle was necessary. Was Zhivago's being torn between two women symbolic of Russia being torn between two philosophies or two historical eras?


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