Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Review: ‘The Zhivago Affair’, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée

The CIA’s role in publishing a Russian cold war classic

By Virginia Rounding
June 20, 2014

In September 1958, at the World Fair in Brussels, a Russian-language edition of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, bound in blue linen, was handed out from the Vatican Pavilion to Soviet visitors. There were rumours that the CIA was involved in its publication, but these were not rumours the Americans cared to confirm.

The CIA’s involvement in literature, with books being treated as weapons, is a little known element of the cold war. In fact, as Peter Finn and Petra Couvée make clear in fascinating detail in The Zhivago Affair, the agency maintained an extensive book programme that lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union. If a piece of literature was unavailable or banned in the USSR or eastern Europe, and the work might challenge or contrast with Soviet reality, the agency wanted it in the hands of citizens in the Eastern Bloc.

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