(Love love love this cover design! Conveys the espionage feeling perfectly.)
The title says it all, with the intrigue and all: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book. Not only was Doctor Zhivago banned by the USSR, but Boris Pasternak and his family were threatened, followed by KGB agents, and ostracized. Some could almost say that the KGB killed Pasternak: because he was expelled from the writers' union, he couldn't work. He was very cash-strapped at the end. He couldn't go to the hospital, because he was "non-party." (Their words.) But he did not die alone. The CIA made sure that the world knew of him, and of his novel. Millions of copies were sold in the Western world. Hundreds of thousands of copies were covertly smuggled into and distributed throughout the Eastern bloc and Russia.
How cool is that? So many independent groups and people all working together to try to achieve recognition for Pasternak. He was even awarded the Nobel Prize, but the KGB forced him to decline. How sad is that?!?
Reasons I loved this book: for an adult history nonfiction book, it was really readable. Not too dense, but didn't skimp on details either. The author's prose was spot-on. No paragraph-length sentences. Also: the balance between biography and history. This book has a great balance throughout the book and within individual chapters between telling the reader about Pasternak and his life and family, and the CIA/Kremlin activities. I like that personal touch; I like knowing how particular government actions affected him and his loved ones. I really felt for him.
I'm going to sum up with a blurb from the back of the book, because I agree with it: "With groundbreaking reporting and character-rich storytelling, Peter Finn and Petra Couvee uncover the high-stakes drama behind one of the Cold War's strangest turning points. Passionately written and acutely aware of the historical context, The Zhivago Affair almost makes one nostalgic for a time when novels were so important that even the CIA cared about them." ~Ken Kalfus