The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott weaves the threads of fact and fiction as she tells the story of Boris Pasternak, Nobel Prize winning author of Dr. Zhivago and the real life intrigues and machinations first to get the book published against the will of a repressive Soviet regime and then its use by the CIA as a propaganda tool during the Cold War. The novel, about two lovers Yuri Zhivago and Lara Antipova and their ultimately doomed romance set against the chaotic backdrop of the decades spanning the Russian Revolution and World War II, would never have been published if Pasternack hadn’t been able to smuggle it out of Russia and into the hands of an Italian publisher.
The Soviets, who didn’t want the book to be read, demanded the publisher return it. He refused, the book was published and became an international bestseller which was turned into a mega-hit movie of the same name.
Prescott’s mother so loved the movie, she named her daughter after the heroine, Lara Antipova.
“As a child, I’d wind up her musical jewelry box again and again just to hear it play ‘Lara’s Theme,’” says Prescott about the haunting melody that also became a hit. “I, too, loved the movie, but it wasn’t until I actually read the novel that I felt such a strong connection with the material. It was as if the old master was reaching out to me across time and space—a candle in a window on a winter night.”
But it was Prescott’s father who added another twist to the real life story of the Nobel Prize winning book by sending her an article from the Washington Post about how the CIA spy operation to distribute the book throughout the Soviet Union.
Fascinated by the article, Prescott delved deep into research reading once classified CIA documents, biographies of Pasternack and his muse and inspiration Olga Ivinskaya and visiting his dacha in Peredelkino, now a museum, where he wrote the novel and his gravesite. She tells the story of Pasternack’s persecution (the Soviets made him turn down the Nobel Prize award) through Olga’s eyes as well as those of a woman involved with the CIA.
“Also at the forefront was telling the story of all those women—many lost to history—who served the United States during WWII and the CIA’s early days,” says Prescott who at first wondered how a book could be the center of a CIA plot before realizing that made a lot of sense. “Of course books could be used in this way because they can change the hearts and minds of people.”