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‘Zhivago,’ Apart from the CIA

In response to:

The CIA’s ‘Zhivago’ from the July 10, 2014 issue

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Irina Emelyanova
Boris Pasternak with Olga Ivinskaya and her daughter, Irina Emelyanova, 1957

To the Editors:

I was pleased to see the attention devoted in Michael Scammell’s review to my book Inside the Zhivago Storm and to the recent book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, both concerned with Doctor Zhivago [NYR, July 10]. I was also delighted to see my detection of the CIA involvement in the publication of Zhivago as “a tour de force of literary detection worthy of a scholarly Sherlock Holmes.” However, it is unfortunate that the review, by giving center stage to the CIA intervention, results in an inevitable misconception as to what my book contains.

While writing my book, I was aware that CIA documents would soon be declassified. I was not worried, since the CIA intervention was not my main concern and I discuss it only in connection to the Mouton and Michigan Russian editions of Zhivago: exactly 5 percent of my book (twenty pages out of four hundred) is devoted to the CIA. Indeed, the CIA involvement is by no means the whole or even the principal part of the Zhivago affair. Hence Scammell’s feeling sorry for my timing, and his insistence on Finn and Couvée having the “trump card,” convey the wrong impression of what my aims were, thereby failing to indicate how the two books differ while complementing each other.

Scammell’s almost exclusive focus on the CIA has resulted in a review that has completely ignored the developments contained in chapter 1 (one hundred pages on the history of the Italian edition, with the first comprehensive account of the events connected to the KGB, the Soviet Writers’ Union, the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Italian Communist Party, and Feltrinelli), most of chapter 2 (the history of the Russian editions other than the Mouton and Michigan editions), and all of chapter 3 (two hundred pages containing the full Pasternak–Feltrinelli correspondence with extensive commentary; Scammell devotes one single, laudatory sentence to it).

Moreover, the newly declassified CIA documents, however valuable they are, change very little in the general history of the events, even though they allow us to establish more precisely the chronology of the campaign and its main actors. Having restricted his focus to the CIA, Scammell has failed to convey that the publication, among other documents, of most of the materials on Zhivago from the Feltrinelli archives is in itself a major contribution to the Zhivago story. The story of the CIA intervention is by no means more dramatic, rich, and significant for historians of literature and of the cold war than the Feltrinelli story contained in the parts of my book that Scammell has passed over in silence.

Paolo Mancosu
Professor of Philosophy
University of California
Berkeley, California

Michael Scammell replies:

It is probably of scant comfort to Professor Mancosu to hear that my copy of his book is profusely furnished with marginal notes and underlinings, and that in an early draft of my review, started before I had read Finn and Couvée’s book, I wrote at much greater length about his work than I was able to do in the final version. Among other things I praised him for his judicious account of Pasternak’s lengthy affair with Olga Ivinskaya, which surpasses that given by Finn and Couvée, and wish I had remembered to mention it in my published article. I hope I can make amends by quoting two paragraphs here:

An excellent illustration of [Mancosu’s] capacity to range beyond a purely academic approach is his treatment of Pasternak’s infatuation with Olga Ivinskaya, starting in the fall of 1946, and his brief account of the complexities of the turbulent ménage à trois the poet established with her and his wife Zinaida while he was working on and trying to publish Doctor Zhivago. Mancosu is appreciative of the way Pasternak turned his mistress into his literary heroine, Lara, but also sensitive to the poet’s agonies of self-doubt and guilt over the affair. He is also sympathetic to the suffering inflicted by Ivinskaya’s twin arrests by the KGB, the first in 1949, when she served four years in the Gulag and allegedly lost Pasternak’s baby to a miscarriage, and the second time (together with her daughter, Irina Emelyanova) in 1960, immediately after Pasternak’s death, when she served another four years.

The first arrest was simply a way to punish Pasternak by depriving him of his lover, but the second was for acting as Pasternak’s agent in dealing with Feltrinelli and other foreign intermediaries, which she partially described in her best-selling 1978 memoir, A Captive of Time. Mancosu underlines her importance to Pasternak by printing all the letters that passed between her and Feltrinelli both before and after Pasternak’s death in 1960, several of which haven’t been seen until now. Mancosu also publishes for the first time a letter in which Pasternak gave Ivinskaya full power of attorney not long before his death, confirming an earlier letter from 1958: “I ask that Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya’s signature be believed as if it were my own and to consider all instructions from Olga Vsevolodovna as my own. The power of attorney…is in effect indefinitely.”

For reasons of space I couldn’t go into such detail in my final draft. Finn and Couvée’s book deals at length with the CIA’s intervention, a subject that should be of concern for American readers—though I go out of my way to note that the CIA’s Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago “had nothing to do with Pasternak’s fame or him winning the Nobel Prize.” Mr. Mancosu’s account of how the first Italian edition and later Russian-language editions of Zhivago appeared in the West are certainly valuable and will undoubtedly be discussed in the scholarly journals where his book will receive closer scrutiny.

If Mancosu reads my review carefully, he will see that I pay much more attention to the broader story of Pasternak and Doctor Zhivago than to the CIA’s part in it, and that in addition to drawing on my own research and on the original CIA documents and Finn and Couvée’s book, I also acknowledge Mancosu’s own contributions.