Zhivago in Mexico and South America

Feltrinelli, Pasternak, and the contract on Doctor Zhivago.

In my book “Inside the Zhivago Storm. The editorial adventures of Pasternak’s masterpiece” (Feltrinelli, Milan, 2013) and in Mancosu (2015), I have devoted a great deal of attention to the history of the Russian pirate editions in the West (Pasternak 1958h, Pasternak 1959d, Pasternak 1964). The interest of the topic is twofold, for it tells an interesting story about the role of the CIA in the publication of the Russian text and on Feltrinelli’s peculiar position.

Concerning the first aspect, let me recall that the first edition of the Russian text (Pasternak 1958h) came out in an edition financed by the CIA that was printed in The Hague (by the publisher Mouton) and distributed at the World Fair in Brussels in September 1958. In Mancosu 2013 (see chapter 2), I was able to show that this very edition is also the source of another pirate edition in the making, namely that prepared in the summer 1958 by the University of Michigan Press. The evidence for this claim comes from many sources but the smoking gun is provided by the existence of the galley proofs prepared by the University of Michigan Press that are now to be found in the Edmund Wilson archive at Yale University.

The other source of interest in the early pirated editions of the Russian Zhivago concerns the role of Feltrinelli, the publisher who had signed a contract with Pasternak for publication of the Zhivago in Italian and other translations, and who claimed the rights for the Russian edition in the West. Indeed, as Mancosu 2013 shows, whereas Feltrinelli’s publication of the Italian text –the first worldwide publication of Zhivago– in November 1957, put him at the center of attention as an anti-censorship hero, his early hesitation concerning the publication of the Russian Zhivago was used, by several forces unsympathetic to his leftist leanings, to attack him as trying to censor the Zhivago. The accusations came, among other sources, from various anti-Bolshevic organizations, such as the NTS (National Alliance of Russian Solidarists), and from The University of Michigan Press. While the publication of the Mouton edition was completely unexpected, Feltrinelli was able to block the projected Michigan edition by reaching an agreement with Michigan so that the edition would appear under his license.

Feltrinelli’s dealings with Mouton and The University of Michigan Press show a recurrent theme in Feltrinelli’s approach to defending his copyright for the Zhivago, namely threaten legal action but then reach a compromise before a court trial was necessary. The reasons for Feltrinelli’s behavior are to be found in the peculiar situation concerning the signed agreement between Pasternak and Feltrinelli. Pasternak had signed a contract with Feltrinelli on January 30, 1956 (for a photographic reproduction of the signed contract see Mancosu 2013, pp. 206-207). The contract concerned exclusively the translation into Italian and other foreign languages. When the contract was signed, it was expected that the Russian text would have appeared in the USSR and thus no special mention was made of the Russian text. When in 1957 it became clear that the Zhivago would not appear in Russian, Feltrinelli was left in a peculiar position. The contract did not explicitly give him rights for the Russian text, yet the contemporary legislation on copyright in the West protected his rights to the text in whatever form (thus, also in the original Russian, or any other adaptation for motion pictures, radio, television, theater etc.). Thus, he could block anyone else outside the USSR (provided the country involved recognized the Bern and Geneva legislation on copyright) from publishing the Russian text. This is what he did from November 1957 to March 1958, until he decided that he would make a Russian edition himself. But he paid dearly for his first period of hesitation, for the CIA began its publication project already in early spring 1958 and his hesitation, coupled with his leftist leanings, were exploited to associate him with the Soviet as if he were aiding the Soviets to censor the Zhivago (at least in the Russian language). The other complication with Pasternak’s contract was more important. Pasternak was a Soviet citizen and since the late 1920s it had been unconceivable for a Soviet author to publish abroad without first publishing in the USSR (which meant receiving approval for publication by the political/literary forces controlling the literary activity in the USSR). Signing a contract with a foreign publisher was an act of defiance. Even worse, receiving foreign royalties would have been damning for someone like Pasternak who had been attacked since the 1930s as bourgeois, idealistic, and cosmopolitan. For this reason, the contract with Pasternak could not be shown and this affected Feltrinelli’s approach to the defense of his copyright in the Western world. As I mentioned, he was able to reach a compromise with Mouton and the University of Michigan Press without having to show his contract and without entering protracted legal confrontation. But this was before the Nobel Prize award in October 1958.

After the Nobel Prize, the interest on Pasternak became massive. The first negotiations for a motion picture of the Zhivago, in October/November 1958, were abandoned by Feltrinelli exactly because he would have had to display the contract (and provide further contractual evidence concerning his rights to motion pictures, which were not included in the contract; see Mancosu 2013, pp. 294-298).

The pirates of the Russian text were driven by ideological motivation and the editions in question were not done for profit. Once Pasternak got the Nobel Prize, financial gains motivated different publishers around the world to come out with editions that were not licensed by Feltrinelli. Thus, Feltrinelli had to defend his copyright (and Pasternak’s interests) through legal action in many different parts of the world. At his side was the lawyer Antonio Tesone, who was in charge of the complex legal negotiations involved in protecting the copyright. The Feltrinelli archives in Milan contain many documents witnessing the legal battles that Tesone had to wage against the Russian pirate editions and against pirate editions in, among others countries, Greece, Turkey, and South America.

In this and the next two posts, I would like to tell the story of the editions in Portuguese and Spanish, especially the pirate ones made in Mexico and South America, for the story offers a telling insight into the delicate balance between the battle for the copyright and Feltrinelli’s principle that the contract with Pasternak was not to be shown, in order to protect the latter from retaliation in his own country. In addition, this will allow me to present in detail the different Portuguese and Spanish editions of the Zhivago that appeared in Mexico and South America between late 1958 and 1959. These editions have never been studied in detail and some of them are now very difficult to find. These posts extend the treatment of the pirate editions in South America given in Mancosu (2015). The bibliography, credits, and acknowledgements will be given at the end of the third post

The Portuguese editions

In November 1957, Feltrinelli offered to the German agent Ernst Geisenheyner the task of selling the rights for the Lusophone area (Geisenheyner was already in charge of selling the German translation rights and also dealt with Dutch). Despite competing interest from two Portuguese publishers, Editoria Ulissia in Lisbon (request made on February 3, 1958) and Editora Livros do Brazil (request made on July 23, 1958), the rights were sold to Livraria Itatiaia in Belo Horizonte (for Brazil) and to Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon (for Portugal).

On March 4, 1958, Geisenheyner wrote to Feltrinelli:

Bezüglich des portugiesischen Sprachraumes verhandle ich mit einem großen Verlag in Lissabon und einen Verlag in Brasilien. Ich hoffe, daß es bei diesem beiden Verlagen in absehbarer Zeit ebenfalls zu Abschlüssen kommt. Allerdings glaube ich, daß wir hier keine allzu hohen Vorschüsse herausholen können, da es sich um ein relative kleines und was den Buchverkauf betrifft nicht sehr ergiebiges Sprachgebiet handelt. (Fondo Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Milan, dossier “Geysenheyner”)

Itatiaia, ­ a publishing house founded in 1953 by the brothers Pedro Paulo and Edison Moreira, published a first edition in 1958, after the Nobel Prize, and a second one in early 1959 (and several other after that). Since the negotiations with Itatiaia were still pending on September 16, 1958 (letter from Geisenheyner to Feltrinelli), and a signed contract from Itatiaia arrived only on October 2, 1958, it is quite possible that the translation into Portuguese had already begun by the time the contract was signed. Indeed, it is interesting that the first edition does not have in the copyright page any reference to Feltrinelli whereas the second edition does. Perhaps the agreement with Feltrinelli arrived too late for mention of the copyright in the first edition of the book. That an edition had been in the making before the agreement with Feltrinelli is also confirmed by two more details. First, Geisenheyner informed Feltrinelli that the negotiations with Itatiaia had been complicated and involved three agents. Second, it is virtually impossible that a translation could have been done in less than two months. It is however the case that the translation was done very fast. The reason is that the book was translated from the French version that appeared only in July 1958. The translation was the work of Oscar Mendez and Milton Amado. The poems were translated by Heitor Martins.

000 copy

O Doutor Jivago, 1958, Editora Itatiaia, Belo Horizonte, first edition.

How the interest of Itatiaia for the book originated is described in a touching report of the excitement surrounding the sale of Doctor Zhivago in Brazil. (click here)

Here is the relevant passage, which shows how wrong Geisenheyner had been in saying to Feltrinelli that Brazil was after all a relatively small market.

A história da Livraria Itatiaia liga-se à rua da Bahia graças a uma outra história: a do romance Doutor Jivago, do russo Boris Pasternak. O livro, que começou a ser escrito entre 1910 e 1920 [[this is incorrect]], foi concluído apenas em 1956, dois anos após os irmãos Moreira [[Pedro Paulo Moreira, publisher of Doctor Zhivago in Brazil; Edison Moreira, Brazilian poet, brother and business partner of Pedro Paulo]]… Com a sua publicação impedida pelo governo soviético, Doutor Jivago cruzou sorrateiramente as fronteiras da Cortina de Ferro para ser publicado na Itália, em 1957. Um ano depois, Oscar Mendes, um dos intelectuais que então compunham o time de tradutores da Itatiaia, teve acesso à edição francesa do Jivago, cedida a ele por Marie-Louise Bataille, uma das agentes literárias francesas que è época abasteciam Edison e Pedro Paulo. O tradutor leu e disse aos Moreira: “Achei muito interessante! Se quiserem publicar, traduzo com gosto!”

Milton Amado e Heitor Martins juntaram-se a Oscar Mendes e a tarefa tradutória começou. Foi quando Pasternak recebeu o prêmio Nobel da Academia Sueca. O evento por si só já alavanca as vendas de qualquer livro, mas, neste caso, o episódio ganha dimensão ainda maior com a recusa de Pasternak em receber a láurea a saída da União Soviética poderia implicar a perda de sua cidadania, o que o escritor preferiu evitar, declinando do convite para ir à Suécia. Pedro Paulo logo entendeu a importância da publicação de uma edição em português. Com o rebuliço em torno do Jivago, a Itatiaia recebeu 50 mil pedidos adiantados. Pedro Paulo, que então estabelecera uma tiragem de 75 mil, achou por bem dobrá-la: “Era uma loucura! À medida que as traduções iam ficando prontas, colocava-as num avião que aluguei e corria para São Paulo, onde as impressões eram feitas”, conta o editor. Na noite de lançamento, ele chegou em cima da hora, trazendo, no avião, cerca de 20 mil volumes: a última leva.

Leny Moreira, mulher de Pedro Paulo, lembra que a noite de lançamento foi “um negócio de doido”: “Era tanta gente na porta da livraria, que precisamos chamar a polícia. Fizeram um cordão de isolamento, organizando a fila enorme que entrava livraria adentro”. Cada exemplar do romance de Pasternak custava 250 cruzeiros. Pedro Paulo estima a venda de inacreditáveis 10 mil exemplares em uma só noite. Além da venda dos livros, a Itatiaia contou com a publicação do romance em formato folhetinesco nos jornais Última Hora e Estado de São Paulo. Nas idas à capital paulista para imprimir o livro, Pedro Paulo conheceu Samuel Wainer, que encantou-se com o livro; e o editor ainda encontrava tempo para dançar com Danuza Leão, mulher do jornalista, vestida provocantemente de vermelho, “espalhando brasa” pelos salões paulistanos.
Com os ganhos que o Doutor Jivago trouxe, a mudança para um espaço maior, na rua da Bahia, não tardou. No fim de 1958, Pedro Paulo celebrou o feliz transcorrer do ano, dedicando um volume do romance russo a Leny. No frontispício, lê-se: “Para Leny, mais uma vitória nossa. Bhte, Natal de 1958″.

In a letter from Tesone to Feltrinelli, dated December 31, 1958, there is talk of a pirate edition in Brazil published by COPAC. Tesone complained that they could not start legal action because they could not locate the publisher. It is quite likely that the book in question was actually a commentary on the Zhivago affair written by Murillo Araújo and published by the editorial COPAC of Rio de Janeiro. The book was titled “Para Comprendeer ‘O doutor Jivago’” with at the bottom of the page “Boris Pasternak. Premio Nobel de Literatura-1958. COPAC”. However, the difference in size of the characters on the title page gave the following visual impression: “O doutor Jivago, Boris Pasternak, COPAC”.

Portuguese COPAC copy

Para Comprender “O doutor Jivago”, COPAC, Rio de Janeiro, 1958


This could have fooled many readers into thinking that the book contained large parts of Doctor Zhivago while in effect it only contained translations of a few of the Zhivago poems and a long commentary on the Zhivago affair. This book, which was published at the end of 1958, also mentions the forthcoming translation by Itatiaia (p. 89) and makes no mention of a competing translation by COPAC. It thus seems that Tesone and Feltrinelli had been misinformed as to the exact nature of the COPAC book (although the poems could still not be published without Feltrinelli’s permission).

A second point of interest concerning the Portuguese editions is that they were not done on the Russian original but rather from the French. It had been Geisenheyner who had persuaded Feltrinelli, in a letter dated October 2, 1958, to ask permission from Collins and Gallimard so that the Portuguese translation could be done from the English or the French.

SAM_3290 copy

O Doutor Jivago, Livraria Bertrand, Lisboa, 1960, first edition.

He alleged that this was as a consequence of a lack of qualified translators from Russian into Portuguese, which seems hardly believable. It is more probable that the Brazilian publisher had already started the translation from the French and this was a way to speed up the publication process. Feltrinelli did in fact ask Collins for permission on October 4 and received it in a letter dated October 8. The Itatiaia translation was carried out from the French.

The Livraria Bertrand edition published in Lisbon does not have a date but it came out in 1960.

The translator of the work was Augusto Abelaria and the poems were translated by David Mourao Ferreira. The book contained a preface by Aquilino Ribeiro.

Overall, the Lusophone area did not give too many problems when it came to pirate editions (there was a pirate edition of the Autobiography in Portugal in 1959 but Tesone and Feltrinelli did not pursue it). The situation was dramatically different with translations into Spanish. I will recount the history of the editions in Spanish in the next two posts.