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About the book
  • Published: 1 September 2015
  • ISBN: 9780099581345
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $22.99

The Zhivago Affair

The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book

The story of a forbidden book that became a symbol of freedom and rebellion in the battle between East and West.

The story of a forbidden book that became a symbol of freedom and rebellion in the battle between East and West.

1956. Boris Pasternak presses a manuscript into the hands of an Italian publishing scout with these words: ‘This is Doctor Zhivago. May it make its way around the world.’ Pasternak knew his novel would never be published in the Soviet Union as the authorities regarded it as seditious, so, instead, he allowed it to be published in translation all over the world - a highly dangerous act.

1958. The life of this extraordinary book enters the realms of the spy novel. The CIA, recognising that the Cold War was primarily an ideological battle, published Doctor Zhivago in Russian and smuggled it into the Soviet Union. It was immediately snapped up on the black market. Pasternak was later forced to renounce the Nobel Prize in Literature, igniting worldwide political scandal.

With first access to previously classified CIA files, The Zhivago Affair gives an irresistible portrait of Pasternak, and takes us deep into the Cold War, back to a time when literature had the power to shake the world.

A Spectator and Sunday Times Book of the Year

  • Pub date: 1 September 2015
  • ISBN: 9780099581345
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $22.99

About the Authors

Peter Finn

PETER FINN is national security editor for The Washington Post and previously served as the Post’s bureau chief in Moscow.

Petra Couvee

PETRA COUVÉE is a writer and translator, and teaches at Saint Petersburg State University.

Praise for The Zhivago Affair

“A galloping page-turner and a stark picture of a nation ruled by terror and unreason, which reads like a sinister rewrite of Alice in Wonderland”

John Carey, Sunday Times

“Packed with fascinating detail … vibrant authenticity and calm analysis”

Claire Morrall, Independent on Sunday

“Fascinating… [Finn and Couvée] manage to shed new light on both the period and the characters involved”

Virginia Rounding, Financial Times

“A compelling, seductively written tale of Cold War censorship and paranoia”

Kate Williams, Independent

“Excellent, superbly researched, and as exciting in its way as any Cold War thriller. Pasternak himself emerges clearly and strongly in all his complexity. This was the most important literary controversy of the post-war world, and Finn and Couvée have presented it with immense care and colour. The aftermath of the affair still has resonance even now”

John Simpson

“An extraordinary, gripping tale of art and espionage, The Zhivago Affair embodies the belief shared by its flamboyant cast of geniuses, barbarians, lovers and eccentrics: books matter”

AD Miller, author of SNOWDROPS

“[The Zhivago Affair] really is a thriller, a page turner”

Vin Arthey, Scotland on Sunday

“A fine contribution to our knowledge of what became known as the Pasternak affair”

Robert Service, Times Literary Supplement

“A you-couldn’t-make-it-up account of the CIA’s campaign to smuggle copies of Pasternak’s banned novel into the USSR”

Mark Mason, Spectator

“Beautifully crafted and scrupulously researched… The Zhivago Affair is a prime example of hard work and fidelity to a good story”

Washington Post Sunday

“As gripping as any spy thriller”

Sunday Times

“Fascinating...With a delightful eye for detail”

Catherine Merridale, The Times

“Finn and Couvée deal objectively with the characters involved and tell the story with exceptional vivacity”

Literary Review

“A thrilling literary espionage yarn...sheds new light on the Cold War struggle for the hearts and minds of millions of people”

Michael Dobbs

“A fascinating tale that sheds new light on the literary front of the Cold War”

Stephen Coulson, Lady

“High dudgeon, high stakes, high art”

Robert Bound, Monocle

“A wonderful book”

Angus Roxburgh, The Herald

“A fast-paced political thriller about a book that terrified a nation”

Kirkus Reviews

“Brisk and thrilling...expertly told...a triumphant reminder that truth is sometimes gloriously stranger than fiction”

Publishers Weekly

“Groundbreaking reporting and character-rich storytelling... Passionately written...almost makes one nostalgic for a time when novels were so important that even the CIA cared about them”

Ken Kalfus

“A sparkling and fascinating account”

David E. Hoffman

“Well-paced narrative...of great relevance today, when such conflicts seem (but only seem) to have disappeared.”

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

“Immensely compelling”

Fred Hiatt, The Pat Banker

“Meticulously researched”

Duncan White, Irish Independent

“The true strength of this meticulously researched book is the placing of the revelations into the context of a compelling human drama”

Weekly Telegraph


Andrew Lynch, Sunday Business Post

“[An] outstanding treasure of literature”

Market Oracle

“Impeccably researched, and moving, this book breaks new ground”

5 stars, Sunday Telegraph

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