- Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890–1960) wrote his great novel Doctor Zhivago in secret over many years. In 1957 the manu-script was smuggled to the West, where it quickly found a publisher. In 1958 Pasternak, one of the greatest Russian poets and a translator of Shakespeare, received the Nobel Prize for his novel and life’s work. The KGB’s reaction to the novel and its author was volcanic. The security service bombarded the Communist Party Central Committee with reports of the book’s anti-Soviet themes. Pasternak immediately came under tremendous pressure to denounce his novel. Despite threats to friends—his mistress was arrested—Pasternak refused to bow to pressure from the party and the Writers Union. He was isolated, and threatened. He died two years later.The KGB’s reaction to Zhivago reflected the worldview of the service even during the “liberal” years of Nikita Khrushchev. One party critic denounced Pasternak as worse than a pig, “because a pig doesn’t defecate where it eats.” The virulence of the attacks suggested that the police and the party feared any challenge to their authority. The name “Zhivago” comes from the Russian Orthodox Church’s Easter Mass and suggests life and resurrection; the novel and its attached poetry remain a symbol of the victory of ideas over the power of repression. The novel was first published in the Soviet Union in 1987, almost three decades after it won the Nobel Prize.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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