* CIA said Pasternak's novel challenged Soviet system
* Book passed from hand to hand across Communist world
* Miniature edition also published for easy concealment
By Bill Trott
WASHINGTON, April 6 CIA officials had rave
reviews for Boris Pasternak's classic Russian novel "Doctor
Zhivago" - not for its literary merit but as a propaganda weapon
in the Cold War, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The U.S. intelligence agency saw the book as a challenge to
Communism and a way to make Soviet citizens question why their
government was suppressing one of their greatest writers,
according to newly declassified CIA documents that detail the
agency's involvement in the book's printing, the Post said.
The Soviet government had banned the novel and British
intelligence first recognized its propaganda value in 1958,
sending the CIA two rolls of film of its pages and suggesting it
be spread through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Moscow was both angered and embarrassed by the eventual
success of the novel and of David Lean's lavish 1965 movie
version, which won five Academy Awards and was nominated for
Pasternak's romantic epic chronicles the life of Yuri
Zhivago, a physician and poet, and his love for two women
through decades of revolutions, wars, civil war and Communist
oppression. "Doctor Zhivago" had a religious, mystical tone and
its main character did not hew to official Marxist ideology.
Russian critics denounced Pasternak as a traitor and the
Soviet publishing industry would not touch it, but an Italian
literary scout took a copy of the manuscript out of the Soviet
Union and an Italian company published it in 1957.
Shortly afterwards, the CIA became involved, according to
recently declassified memos obtained by authors Peter Finn and
Petra Couvee in their research for the book "The Zhivago Affair:
The Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book,"
which will be released in June.
The Post's story was an adaptation of the Finn-Couvee book.
"CHALLENGE TO SOVIET ETHIC"
One of the CIA memos said "Dr. Zhivago" had high propaganda
value "not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking
nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication.
"We have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what
is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the
man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not
even available in his own country in his own language for his
own people to read," the memo said.
The CIA decided to have it published in foreign languages
for free distribution as a way to undermine the Soviet Union.
"Pasternak's humanistic message - that every person is
entitled to a private life and deserves respect as a human
being, irrespective of the extent of his political loyalty or
contribution to the state - poses a fundamental challenge to the
Soviet ethic of sacrifice of the individual to the Communist
system," John Maury, chief of the agency's Soviet Russia
Division, said in a memo, according to the Post.
The CIA wanted to conceal the U.S. role in disseminating
"Doctor Zhivago" so it brought in a Dutch publishing house to
print Russian-language versions - even though the Italian
publisher still held the rights to the book.
The books were distributed across Europe with the primary
target being the 1958 Brussels Universal and International
Exposition because Moscow had issued visas for 16,000 Soviet
citizens to attend.
The CIA did not want the U.S. pavilion at the exposition to
distribute the 365 copies of the book so they were discreetly
handed to Soviet citizens visiting the Vatican's pavilion.
The books circulated widely among Soviet visitors to the
exposition and a CIA memo proclaimed the move a success.
Later the CIA engineered the publication of a miniature
edition of the novel - small enough to fit into a pocket and
sometimes split into two volumes to make it easier to conceal.
Many of those mini-books were distributed to young Soviets and
Eastern Europeans at a youth conference in Vienna in 1959.
With the CIA's help, "Doctor Zhivago" eventually reached
Moscow and Soviet satellite countries, passed from hand to hand.
Pasternak, who was also a leading poet, won the Nobel Prize
for Literature in 1958 and the English-language version of
"Doctor Zhivago" spent six months atop the New York Times
best-seller list in 1958 and 1959.
Pasternak stayed in Russia up to his death in 1960 at the
age of 70 after suffering from heart problems and lung cancer.
(Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Jim Loney and Gareth Jones)