Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Literary espionage

How the CIA published Doctor Zhivago in Russian and helped embarrass the Soviets. In 1958, the CIA published Doctor Zhivago in Russian to gain attention for the Soviets' persecution of its author, Boris Pasternak. Primarily a poet, Pasternak had been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but Zhivago was his masterpiece. Because the Nobel committee would not award literature prizes for works not published in the language in which the book was originally written, the CIA managed to purloin a Russian manuscript, photocopy it and publish it under the name of an Italian publishing house.

An interesting synopsis of the operation in the Washington Post today, as a preview of Ivan Tolstoy's forthcoming account, The Laundered Novel.

For those of you who've read espionage fiction and believe that this all sounds a bit familiar, that's because it is. In the 1970s, Charles McCarry wrote
The Secret Lovers, a novel whose main plot centered around the death of a courier who smuggled a manuscript out of Moscow. McCarry worked for the CIA in Europe during the Cold War. The Monk wonders at the origin of his plot idea.

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