Crime and Punishment

While doing some research this morning, I came across this fascinating story about Russian poet and Novelist, Boris Pasternak, and his best known work, Doctor Zhivago:

After his own novel was denied publication by the journal Novy Mir, Pasternak arranged for Doctor Zhivago to be smuggled abroad by Sir Isaiah Berlin. In 1957, the novel was printed by the multi-billionaire Italian publisher, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. To the outrage of the Politburo, the novel became an instant sensation throughout the non-Communist world. As retaliation for his role in Doctor Zhivago’s publication, Feltrinelli was expelled in disgrace from the Italian Communist Party.

[…] The first English translation of Doctor Zhivago was hastily produced by Max Hayward and Manya Harari in order to coincide with Pasternak’s Nobel victory. It was released in August 1958, and remained the only edition available for more than fifty years.

Between 1958 and 1959, the English language edition spent 26 weeks at the top of The New York Times’ bestseller list. Although none of his Soviet critics had the chance to read the proscribed novel, several officials of the Writer’s Union publicly demanded, “kick the pig out of our kitchen-garden,” i.e., expel Pasternak from the USSR. This led to a humorous Russian saying, “I did not read Pasternak, but I condemn him”.

Meanwhile, as the novel topped international bestseller lists, the British MI6 and the American CIA commenced an operation to ensure that Doctor Zhivago was correctly submitted to the Nobel Committee. This was done because it was known that a Nobel Prize for Boris Pasternak would seriously harm the international credibility of the Soviet Union. As a result, British and American operatives intercepted and photographed a manuscript of the novel and secretly printed a small number of books in the Russian language. These were submitted to the Nobel Committee’s surprised judges just ahead of the deadline.

Spies waging a covert cultural war with literature, using the Nobel Committee as a proxy agent. I’m not sure what form it will take, but that is going into a future novel, somehow.