Before Doctor Zhivago became an acclaimed film in 1965, it was a novel—one the CIA secretly printed. The Washington Post delves into the book's fascinating back story by way of 130 freshly declassified CIA documents (released at the request of the authors of The Zhivago Affair, out June 17) that trace the book's unusual course. The Soviet Union banned Boris Pasternak's novel from publication; it was first published in Italy, in Italian, in November 1957. Two months later, the CIA was sent photos of the book's pages by British intelligence, who prodded the US to get it into Soviet hands.
Ensuing CIA memos pointed out the book's "great propaganda value," both as a way to alert Russians to the fact that their own government was keeping a book by the man considered "the greatest living Russian writer" from them, and through its "humanistic message, [which] poses a fundamental challenge to the Soviet ethic of sacrifice of the individual to the Communist system." And so the CIA, careful to cloak its involvement, made it available in Russian, first printing a hardcover version in the Netherlands; the first print run was loaded into an American station wagon in September 1958 and parceled out to CIA stations and assets throughout Western Europe, including the Vatican pavilion at the World's Fair in Brussels. A pocket-sized book was printed the following year, at CIA headquarters, under the guise of a fictitious Parisian publisher. The Post's full story explains how a contractual misstep with the first printing raised suspicions that the CIA may have been involved.