The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott Hutchinson September 5th 2019
TWO FEMALE SPIES. A BANNED MASTERPIECE. A BOOK THAT CHANGED HISTORY.
1956. A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.
But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation.
In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.
Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists – the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina – are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago back into Russia by any means necessary.
It will not be easy. There are people prepared to die for this book – and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail – as this book has the power to change history.
The authors name could not be more apt for a novel than Lara Prescott’s, Lara the subject of Boris Pasternak’s sweeping Russian love story Dr Zhivago. Many of us have seen the film and read the book but not many know the story behind its creation and journey into the world. Prescott’s novel cleverly mixed fact with fiction as she took us back to the 1950’s to a world wrapped in the Cold War between Russia and America.
Russia a country led by Stalin, then Kruschev, its citizens oppressed, their words, their thoughts spied upon by the state. Pasternak, one of its most eminent literary figures secretly wrote his epic novel, his mistress Olga, his inspiration. Prescott’s portrayal wasn’t necessarily complimentary, a selfish and in some respects a weak man. His lover was the strong one, the driving force, the one who suffered unimaginable horrors, horrors that Prescott did not shy away from sharing with her readers. It showed the sheer oppression and fear people lived with, the consequences life changing and often fatal. You could feel the burden Olga carried on behalf of Pasternak, the precariously fine line she navigated, as you held your breath, as you felt anger and frustration at this great man.
On the other aide of the world, Russian Irina experienced the freedom to live as she wanted, to express opinions and thoughts often taken for granted in a free world. Yet she wasn’t totally free, money tight, a mother to look after. Her entry into the world of the CIA as typist was full of excitement, but Prescott also filled it with a lingering sense of tension, of danger that lurked below the surface. Irina, came across as awkward, naive, a constant struggle to fit it, as she hovered on the periphery of the in crowd, never able to fully immerse herself in the chatter and gossip.
It was in her relationship with fellow spy Sally that Prescott was able to reveal Irina’s true nature and personality. She was a woman eager to learn the deceptive art of being undercover, Sally the teacher. They jointly embraced a world dominated by men, rose above the disdain, and blazed a trail for future generations of women but you knew it would come at a price and Prescott certainly delivered. It left me feeling sad, frustrated but it made Irina stronger, Sally bitter and resentful her actions surprising but intriguing.
Pasternak’s Dr Zihvago was a character in its own right, the words a taint on the Russian government and its people. It’s role in the Cold War was remarkable, a powerful advert for the importance of the written word and literature, of its ability to open up lines of communication and to threaten the power of a government.
I loved the ingenuity and the intrigue of Prescott’s plotting, of the terror and tension she created. At times I held my breath as Irina or Olga faced dangerous situations, discovery and arrest just a breath away.
The switch between America and Russia provided the perfect contrast, freedom versus oppression, the stories brilliantly entwined, the connections deepening as the novel progressed.
I could feel the darkness, the thrill and excitement, the despair and the pain, a novel that truly transcended so many thoughts and emotions.
It was a novel that would transfer brilliantly to the big screen and I do so hope that whom ever wins the rights produces a film that captures the essence of Irina and Olga and the novel.
I would like to thank Hutchinson Books for a copy of The Secrets We Kept to read and review and to Anne Cater for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Lara Prescott was named after the heroine of Doctor Zhivagoandfirst discovered the true story behind the novel after the CIA declassified 99 documents pertaining to its role in the book’s publication and covert dissemination.
She travelled the world – from Moscow and Washington, to London and Paris – in the course of her research, becoming particularly interested in political repression in both the Soviet Union and United States and how, during the Cold War, both countries used literature as a weapon.
Lara earned her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband.
Website : http://www.laraprescott.com/