Tuesday 12 November 2019

Dr Zhivago - still causing trouble

Fiction: The Secrets We Kept

Lara Prescott

Hutchinson, €15.99

The Secrets We Kept
The Secrets We Kept

Anne Cunningham

The story behind the publication of Boris Pasternak's Dr Zhivago is as long and anguished as the novel itself, and has provided debut novelist Lara Prescott with the basis fo this book. Pasternak's novel remained unpublished in the USSR for decades, banned for being 'anti-Soviet' and - incredibly - was first published there as late as 1988. But years beforehand the manuscript had been smuggled out of Russia, translated for publication in the west, then smuggled back into the USSR, in its original Russian, for bootleg distribution. This was a tricky and dangerous business involving east vs west cold war propaganda and Prescott weaves both sides of this saga together with great skill.

In a series of first-person narratives, from Pasternak's real mistress, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the gulags twice because of her association with him, to a typing pool in CIA headquarters in Washington (oddly reminiscent of Mad Men), the story unspools smoothly and methodically. And it must be said that Pasternak does not emerge a hero here, despite what Olga endured for him.

But this is not a biography, and the author's fictional inventions have their own lives, woven neatly around the known facts. Prescott's manuscript fetched $2m - an astounding sum for a debut - with the film rights bought by the producers of La La Land. But Pasternak's great-niece, Anna Pasternak, in the meantime has alleged plagiarism from her own bio of Olga Ivinskaya and has recently threatened legal action against Prescott. Ironic, that. Doctor Zhivago, when it was first published, caused ructions. Now a novel about the publishing of Dr Zhivago is causing ructions.

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