When I was in high school, I decided to read lots of classic literature. Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, The Three Musketeers followed by the Man in the Iron Mask, the Count of Monte Christo.
And Dr. Zhivago.
I don’t remember much about the book or the movie, only that it was some of the hardest reading I have ever had to drag myself through. (I just explained it to Boo. Les Miserables in Russian.)
Imagine my surprise then, when doing research for my 31 days series, to come across the following note on the CIA page:
CIA Publishes Doctor Zhivago in Russian and Exposes Life in USSR under Communism. The CIA has declassified 99 documents describing the CIA’s role publishing Boris Leonidovich Pasternak’s epic novel, Doctor Zhivago, for the first time in Russian in 1958 after it had been banned from being published in the Soviet Union. The Zhivago project was one of many CIA-supported covert publishing programs that involved distributing banned books, periodicals, pamphlets, and other materials to intellectuals in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This collection provides a glimpse into a thoughtful plan to accomplish fast turn-around results without doing harm to foreign partners or Pasternak. Following the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Russian in 1958, Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the popularity of the book skyrocketed, and the plight of Pasternak in the Soviet Union received global media attention. Moscow had hoped to avoid these precipitous outcomes by initially refusing to publish the novel two years earlier. There is no indication in this collection that having Pasternak win the Nobel Prize was part of the Agency’s original plan; however, it contributed to appeals to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and it was a blow to those who insisted that the Soviets in 1958 enjoyed internal freedom. Of note, the documents in this collection show how effective “soft power” can influence events and drive foreign policy.