The Secrets We Kept – by Lara Prescott – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Russia, Soviet Union)

Although a well-written and impressive debut novel about an interesting topic, I found I liked the book less and less as it progressed. Awarded three stars on Goodreads, though 3.5 is probably more accurate.

The novel tells the story of the role played by the Central Intelligence Agency in the publishing of the Russian novel “Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak. Because the novel was considered anti-Soviet in the 1950s, the manuscript had to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union in order to be published internationally. The CIA helped distribute the novel as part of the government’s Cold War strategy (proven by documents released years later under the Freedom of Information Act).

The novel is constructed as a series of chapters voiced by different characters. Some represent the West: women working in the CIA’s typing pool or others who work as CIA operatives. The chapters representing the East are voiced by Olga, Boris’ mistress and the woman who inspired the character of Lara in Dr. Zhivago. It is Olga Ivinskaya who tells us the story of Boris’s life (and hers) inside the Soviet Union — as his novel begins to garner worldwide recognition which causes embarrassment to the Soviet government.

Olga Ivinskaya and Boris Pasternak
Image copyright

The story of how the novel came to be published is an interesting one. As are the lives of Boris and Olga under Soviet rule — with surveillance, harassment, ostracism, and even a few arrests. And I appreciated learning more about the U.S. role in distributing Dr. Zhivago and how clandestine operations are carried out. But I found some of the lesser story threads, much less compelling. And I admit I get annoyed when I have to struggle to determine who is “voicing” a chapter, because the author intentionally makes that identification obscure.

Author Lara Prescott
(from her website)

More about the author, Lara Prescott.