Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Peter Finn and Petra Couvée's "The Zhivago Affair"

Peter Finn is National Security Editor for the Washington Post and previously served as the Post’s bureau chief in Moscow. Petra Couvée is a writer and translator and teaches at Saint Petersburg State University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, and reported the following:
In late 1955 , Boris Pasternak submitted his novel Doctor Zhivago to the Soviet Union’s state literary publisher, Goslitizdat, and two journals, which he hoped would run excerpts. For months he heard nothing back. In September 1956, five senior editors at one of the journals, Novy Mir, wrote Pasternak a 10,000 word rejection letter. It was a detailed summary and condemnation of the book. Page 99, the beginning of Chapter 7 in our book, The Zhivago Affair, opens with this letter, which was hand-delivered to Pasternak along with his manuscript. The letter said, “The thing that disturbed us about your novel is something that neither the editors nor the author can change by cuts or alternations. We are referring to the spirit of the novel, it general tenor, the author’s view on life…The spirit of your novel is one of non-acceptance of the socialist revolution. The general tenor of your novel is that the October Revolution, the Civil War and the social transformation involved did not give the people anything but suffering, and destroyed the Russian intelligentsia, either physically or morally.” The letter captures all of the system’s horror at what Pasternak’s wrote and its determination to stop publication in the West. Pasternak, with a touch of irony, told a friend that he “was pained and regretful at having caused my comrades such work.” But he remained determined to see the book published whatever the personal cost. The letter was published in full in the Literaturnaya Gazeta in October 1958 after Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It was the first blow in an extraordinary campaign to vilify the writer and depict him as a willing stooge of the West, and the abuse ultimately led Pasternak to renounce the prize. That issue of LG, which had a circulation of 880,000, sold out within a few hours. For Muscovites, the letter was a feast of delicious details about the novel. Rarely were readers provided such unexpurgated descriptions and direct quotes from a piece of banned literature.
Learn more about The Zhivago Affair.

--Marshal Zeringue