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'Doctor Zhivago' had a friend in the CIA, author claims

January 30, 2007|From the Washington Post

MOSCOW — Into one of the most sordid episodes in Russian literary history -- the Soviets' persecution of Boris Pasternak, author of "Doctor Zhivago" -- a Russian historian has injected a belated piece of intrigue: the CIA as covert financier of a Russian-language edition of the epic novel.

Ivan Tolstoy, who is also a broadcaster for Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, writes in a forthcoming book that the CIA secretly arranged for the publication of a limited Russian-language edition of "Doctor Zhivago" in 1958 to help Pasternak secure the Nobel Prize in literature that year.

"Pasternak's novel became a tool that was used by the United States to teach the Soviet Union a lesson," Tolstoy said in a telephone interview from Prague, where he works as a Russian commentator for the U.S. government-funded radio stations. The novelist knew nothing of the CIA's action, according to Tolstoy and the writer's family.

Tolstoy said his book, "The Laundered Novel," is based on more than a decade of research and will be released later this year, the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Doctor Zhivago." He previewed its contents in a recent lecture in Moscow.

A CIA role in printing a Russian-language edition has been rumored for years. Tolstoy offers the first detailed account of what would rank as perhaps the crowning episode of a long cultural Cold War, in which the agency secretly financed literary magazines and seminars in Europe in an effort to cultivate anti-Soviet sentiment among intellectuals.

A CIA spokesperson said the agency would have no comment.

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