New novel tells story of Russian classic novel

Dr. Zhivago 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.

Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept

           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.”

The Daughters of the Last Tsar

In her latest book, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (St. Martin’s Press 2015; $17.99), historian Helen Rappaport writes about the four young women who, as daughters of the Tsar of Russia, were swept up in the Russian Revolution in 1917.

“I had a very longstanding desire to write about the Romanov sisters because I felt very strongly that they had been totally marginalized by history – they had always been the pretty set dressing to the bigger more dramatic story of their parents, Nicholas aRomanov Sisters cover_Fotornd Alexandra, and their tragic young brother who was heir to the throne,” says Rappaport. “I wanted to tell their story, as individuals, to describe their own unique personalities, for they were very different from each other, and show what a loving and supportive group of sisters they were to their sick mother and brother, and how they kept everyone’s spirits up after the revolution changed their world so irrevocably.”

Known to most of us by photos showing them dressed in exquisite white dresses and large hats and by the movies and novels based upon the mystery of Anastasia, the youngest of the sisters and whether she had escaped the mass slaughter of the rest of her family (she didn’t, says Rappaport), the author did extensive research finding newspapers, memoirs, journals and letters scattered across the globe.

It was a time full of so many imponderables and so much that could have been different says Rappaport including how the revolution could have been averted if Nicholas II had agreed to political concessions and the formation of a truly democratic government or if the tsarina Alexandra had not allowed herself to be so in thrall to Rasputin because of her desperation at keeping her son Alexey, who was a hemophiliac, alive, thanks to his supposed gifts of healing.

“I always live with my subjects very intensely when writing my books and immerse myself very deeply in the period of history,” says Rappaport, author of 12 books.  “But I have to say that of all the books I have written, the Romanov sisters lived in my heart and my mind much more than any of my other subjects. I am myself a mother of two daughters, and have a granddaughter the age Anastasia was when she died. By the end of my research Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia felt like my own daughters.   And they will always be with me, no matter what else I write.  I wanted so passionately to tell their story.”

Ifyougo:

What: Author Helen Rappaport Discusses the Romanov Sisters

When: 6:30-8:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 11

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State Street, Chicago IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (312) 747-4300

 

 

 

 

 

 

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