Souvarine and Berberova

In his magisterial “The Encounter of the Russian Emigration with Doctor Zhivago” (2009; second edition as Fleishman 2013), Lazar Fleishman investigated the role of the Russian emigration in the publication and the reception of Doctor Zhivago. Among other things, Fleishman was interested in the role of TsOPE (ЦОПЭ) and Nina Berberova in the saga of the publication of the Russian text. This post is a footnote to Fleishman’s book and contributes some interesting details connected to TsOPE and to Berberova’s role, or lack thereof, in the publication of the Russian text of the novel. The new material comes from the correspondence between Boris Souvarine and Nina Berberova.

Let’s begin with some background. At least six typescripts of Doctor Zhivago arrived in the West between May 1956 and March 1957. The story of those typescripts and their role in the publication history of Doctor Zhivago is recounted in my “Zhivago’s Secret Journey: from typescript to book” (2016). None of those typescripts reached the political organization of Russian emigrés known as TsOPE. Indeed, Pasternak was wary of any publication of his novel that could be traced to émigrés political organizations because this would have worsened his position in the Soviet Union.

TsOPE stands for “Central Union of Postwar Immigrants”, a Munich based group; in 1957 it renamed itself “Central Union of Political Immigrants”. While the acronym TsOPE remained the same, the group changed the nature of its work and expanded.

In September 1957 a New York office was opened of which Nina Berberova became the secretary.


Nina Berberova

In a letter to Yuri Ivask, who had asked details about TsOPE, she wrote:

To answer your question: TsOPE is the Central Union of Political Immigrants in Munich. They publish an illustr.[ated] monthly “Svoboda [Freedom]” for which I work. The almanacs will be called “Almanacs of Freedom.” This isn’t a political party and there won’t be any politics, no “Bolshevik-eating” either, just a literary space for which it seems there is a need. By the way, the first issue will contain some hitherto unknown prose by Pasternak. (Berberova to Ivask, 15 February 1958, Berberova Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale)

It is obvious that TsOPE was interested in the work of Pasternak. But were they involved in the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Russian? As far as we can tell, it took almost a year and a half from the arrival of the first typescript of Doctor Zhivago in the West (the one brought by d’Angelo to Feltrinelli in May 1956) until efforts were made on the part of members of TsOPE to get hold of a typescript of Doctor Zhivago. In November 1957, just a few days before the first worldwide publication of Doctor Zhivago (in Italian), a member of TsOPE, Victor Frank, was looking for a copy of the Russian typescript. On November 18, 1957, he wrote to his mother, Tat’yana Seergevna as follows:

I dream of organizing its publication in Russian. Here, at TsOPE, we have the money for that, and I have written to Katkov with a request to find out whether it is possible to obtain the Russian text. It would be funny and embarrassing if the novel was published in all languages, except for Russian—and it would be impossible to harm Pasternak now because the novel is being published abroad anyway and the Soviet authorities know that there are a number of copies of the Russian text beyond their borders. (Quoted in Fleishman 2009, 43–44)

George Katkov had visited Pasternak in September 1956 and had received his own copy of the typescript in March 1957. But he knew that Pasternak would have been endangered by a publication originating from émigrés organizations such as TsOPE and surely he did not heed Frank’s request for the original Russian typescript.

Meanwhile plans for publication of the Russian text were taking shape in France. Pasternak had given two typescripts of his novel to two young French scholars, Hélène Peltier and Jacqueline de Proyart. The two typescripts were in France by February 1957. Peltier and de Proyart were charged by Pasternak with the task of finding a publisher for the French translation and also to look into the possibility of publishing the Russian text. Gallimard was soon contacted and plans for the translation of Doctor Zhivago into French were under way by the summer of 1957.

At the same time Nicolas Nabokov,


Nicolas Nabokov

the secretary of the Congress for the Freedom of Culture, and Boris Souvarine proposed to Gallimard a limited edition of the Russian text. Boris Souvarine (1895–1984) was a French Marxist and a founder of the French Communist Party. In the early twenties, he had been a member of the Comintern, from which he had been expelled in 1924 on account of his anti-Stalinist stand. He was also a historian, essayist, and journalist with a deep knowledge of Soviet matters.

On August 29, 1957, Brice Parain –lecteur at Gallimard– wrote the following memo for Claude Gallimard:

Memo for Mr Claude Gallimard. B. Pasternak. NABOKOV (not the writer but the musician, the one at UNESCO) who is very excited by Pasternak’s novel (he has read it in Russian using the text which is in England) would like and could arrange for a publication of a Russian edition in France with a limited edition of 1000 copies not for sale so that the book could at least be found in Western libraries. One would of course first need to obtain Pasternak’s authorization. If the answer is positive, Boris SOUVARINE asks whether you would be willing to put your name on this Russian edition. NABOKOV would cover the entire costs of the operation. This edition would be strictly not for sale in order not to hamper PASTERNAK’s conversations with the Soviet government. 29 August 1957, B. PARAIN (Archives Gallimard, Paris)

A second memo, dated November 21, 1957, says:

Pasternak’s novel. Boris SOUVARINE and NABOKOV (the one at UNESCO) having learned that we have negotiated for PASTERNAK’s novel with FELTRINELLI insist that we should consider the possibility of a Russian edition with our imprint. Let me remind you that their proposal is the following: this Russian edition will be limited to approximately 1,000 copies, not for sale; all the expenses will be covered through funds that they will put together and it will only be under this condition that we will engage with the proposal. What they desire is to be sure that the complete Russian text will exist, even if it is not published in the USSR, so that it could be distributed to libraries and institutions in the Western world. B. PARAIN, 21 November 1957 (Archives Gallimard, Paris)

These two memos give us the context for the Souvarine-Berberova correspondence that I would like to bring to the attention of the reader. In the Souvarine Papers at Harvard there is a letter from Nina Berberova to Boris Souvarine written on December 17, 1957.

Boris Souvarine

Boris Souvarine

The letter, which bears the stamp “Z.O.P.E. American Branch 430 West 57th St. New York 19, N.Y.” contains some interesting elements and shows that TsOPE had not yet managed to get a typescript of Doctor Zhivago:

Nina Berberova-Kochevitsky

December 17, 1957

Dear Boris,

Here are a few lines from someone whom you surely have forgotten a long time ago. I am in New York, I work, and I went through some pretty strange hard times. I have been married since 1954 (to a musician). At times I see again some mutual friends who speak about you (when they return from Europe). For a very long time I kept a distance from any “emigrantskie” business. In September an organization (Munich) asked me to take care of their business in the USA. It is TsOPE (Central’noe Ob’edinenie Politicheskikh Emigrantov). Some recent emigrants want to publish a thick and heavy (and slighly inflated, on the one hand) collection of “Russian literature”, which, they claim, is still alive! I try to do some things and I have promised them to ask you if you have in your hands Pasternak’s typescript (Doctor Zhivago), in Russian, of course. The fact is that these lads in Munich have a printing press which they own and something in this direction could be done, if you understand what I mean [the last clause in English in the original, PM]. There is total disinterest on their part on financial matters, no one wants to profit from it. But they heard that in Paris, where apparently the manuscript circulates, there are people who actually want to profit from this. Perhaps it would be good for you (if you are looking for a publisher) to get in contact with them. Here is the address:

            Herr Georg Pismenny

            Hohenzollernstrasse 79/I

            München 13, Germany

I plan to come visit you in 1959. I have already started saving money. I have a thousand things to tell you and a thousand to ask you. AFK [Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky] is old and sad, BIN [Boris Ivanovich Nikolaevsky] sleeps on different couches here and there; Volsky (de Plessy Robinson) does not write to me anymore. I heard that the Sputnik was the coup de grace for him.

All the best,

Nina Berberova

(Souvarine Papers, Houghton library; carbon copy also available in the Berberova Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale; original in French)

What information can we draw from the letter? First of all, it is clear that TsOPE was actively looking for a typescript of Doctor Zhivago and that Frank’s efforts had not been crowned with success (otherwise there would have been no reason for Berberova to continue looking for the typescript). Secondly, Berberova had some vague information about a typescript circulating in Paris and the fact that Souvarine had something to do with it.

Souvarine replied to Berberova on December 28, 1957. On the Zhivago issue he wrote:

What you say about Doctor Zhivago is inexact. I am well informed on this: the typescript does not circulate, no one has it, except Feltrinelli who has entrusted copies to Gallimard and Collins for the translations. The instructions are well respected, there are no leaks, the translators are serious and will not let go of the Russian text. In France four translators are at work, each one responsible for one fourth of the novel.

            Someone whose name I am not authorized to mention has the intention to publish the original Russian in one year, in an edition not for sale and only for libraries. Let us hope that no obstacles will come in between. If anything new comes up, I will inform you. (Souvarine to Berberova, December 28, 1957; Berberova Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale; original in French)

It is almost certain that Souvarine was intentionally hiding the fact that, in addition to the photocopy of Feltrinelli’s typescript for Gallimard, there were also the typescripts owned by de Proyart and Peltier in France. Regardless, the above information corresponds exactly with the contents of the Gallimard memos and it is easy to see that the unnamed person was Nicolas Nabokov. Souvarine knew the translators of the novel and appeared to be well-informed about the French publication projects.

On January 20, 1958, Souvarine wrote  a short letter to Berberova:

Dear friend, there are some news. Someone has arrived from Moscow with an authorization written by Pasternak for the publication of his text in Russian. But then it was realized that he had already given a similar authorization to others. Feltrinelli, for his part, claims to have all the rights. From this mess, anyway, sooner or later a Russian edition will appear. The essential is that it be done well.

Yours, B.S. (Souvarine to Berberova, January 20, 1958; Berberova Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale; original in French)

The person who had come back from Moscow was Hélène Peltier who brought back several news and letters from Pasternak. Pasternak had been informed by Peltier that a plan to have the Russian text published with Mouton, a Dutch publisher, was discussed on December 12, 1957, among Jacqueline the Proyart, her husband Daniel, Hélène Peltier, Clemens Heller and two Mouton representatives (on the whole episode see de Proyart 1994 and Mancosu 2013). Among the letters Peltier brought back from Moscow was one for Feltrinelli explicitly asking Feltrinelli to leave de Proyart and Peltier in charge of the Russian edition of the text with Mouton. The Souvarine-Nabokov project of publishing the Russian text was derailed by the fact that Pasternak had entrusted the project to de Proyart and Peltier.

Berberova replied on January 26, 1958:

Dear friend,

As I know you are overwhelmed by work and what your days look like, I am quite touched by your letter giving me news of Zhivago. I hope that the differences between Feltrinelli and “the man who came from Moscow” will not end up in court and will not delay the publication of the book. You say: “The essential is that it be done well.” As something tells me that you will be in charge of it+, I am sure it will, IF they will let you do it.

In the note corresponding to + she added:

“It is neither a question nor an insinuation. You need not answer me.” (Souvarine Papers, Houghton library; original in French)

A note from Brice Parain to Souvarine preserved in the Souvarine Papers confirms that Souvarine had been lent the Russian typescript on September 9, 1958. By that time the Mouton edition, a CIA sponsored pirate edition, had already come out in early September 1958 in Holland (see Mancosu 2016). While the TsOPE office in New York, received two copies of the Mouton edition and passed one to the Russian daily Novoe Russkoe Slovo, little can be concluded from that as to Berberova’s knowledge of what had happened with the Russian edition. Indeed, from two letters exchanged between Berberova and Souvarine at the end of 1958, it becomes clear that she was in the dark as to who was behind the Mouton edition. In a letter to Souvarine, dated December 7, 1958, Berberova wrote that in the last months she had vaguely felt his presence in the Doctor Zhivago affair. Souvarine replied to Berberova on December 10, 1958 claiming only some involvement in the French developments: “non je n’y suis pour rien, sauf dans une certaine mesure, en France, mais ce serait trop long à raconter”. And while it is unfortunate that Souvarine did not say more about his involvement with Doctor Zhivago in France, by implication he excluded any role in the publication of the Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago.

It is my sense that after the information Souvarine had given to Berberova, TsOPE gave up on the idea of publishing a Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that when Katkov visited Victor Frank in Munich in early March 1958, Katkov went to speak to the American Consul in Munich concerning Pasternak and the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Russian. As part of a follow up the Consul, Edward Page, Jr., wrote to the Department of State in Washington:

A few preliminary inquiries by the Consulate General tend to indicate that there are no plans by Soviet emigrès, or similar groups in Munich, to bring out a Russian edition of DR. ZHIVAGO.

[signature] Edward Page, Jr., American Consul General, (cited in Zhivago’s Secret Journey, p. 178)

Let us conclude by revisiting Berberova’s article in Svoboda published in July 1958, which prima facie seemed to provide evidence for claiming that she had inside information about the efforts connected to the publication of the Russian Zhivago. She wrote:

Doctor Zhivago has so far only been published in Italian, and yet all across Europe and America articles concerning it have appeared. Various rumors abound, some of which can be verified, while others can’t. It is reliably well-known that the novel will soon be published in France, England, and the US. Will it be released in Russian? Without a doubt – but not in the Soviet Union. …

“But where is the Russian edition?” the reader will ask. “Where is it? Are we really never going to see it?” Rumors, and only rumors – unverified and contradictory – are flying from Europe to America and back. The following conclusions can be drawn from them:

The novel will be published in Russian in Paris at the end of 1958, but it is not yet known whether it will be widely available or if it will appear only as a “semi-fancy” edition for libraries and collectors. This is essentially already settled, or at the very least, had been settled until recently. In recent days there have been rumors that Pasternak gave the rights to publish the novel in Russian abroad to one person who had been to Russia, but not Feltrinelli. Since Feltrinelli, seemingly, has all the rights (being both Pasternak’s publisher and agent), is an argument brewing over this issue, and could this argument influence the release of the book? All of these are merely conjectures. An argument, or even potentially a court battle, between two individuals who have Pasternak’s approval to publish his novel in Russian, is undoubtedly a threat to the successful publication of the novel. We hope that things do not go that far.” (N. Berberova, About the novel “Doctor Zhivago”, cited in the original Russian in Fleishman 2009, p. 111)

Referring to these passages, on p. 113 of his 2009 book, Fleishman wrote:

The provided citation from Berberova’s article is evidence that she was, undoubtedly, aware of the efforts underway in preparing the Russian publication of Pasternak’s novel and was informed – or, more precisely, found it necessary to tell readers – of the conflict that erupted between the (unnamed in the article) countess Jacqueline de Proyart (who met with the poet in January 1957) and Feltrinelli (who signed a contract/agreement with Pasternak in the summer of 1956).

On p. 154 Fleishman added:

We will add here that the late A. M. Milrud, who was the curator of TsOPE’s activities, in discussions with us told us how he was provided with a proof of the Russian edition of Zhivago for correction in a great hurry, for practically just one day. N. Berberova’s remarks in her article about the prospects of the publication of Zhivago in Russian are also clarified in this light. We can understand why, despite her underscoring of the conflict (presumably, exaggerated) between the two sides who were granted publication rights by Pasternak, Berberova was absolutely certain that the book would be published without delay – before the end of the year. It’s also clear why news of the appearance of the first Russian copies specifically at TsOPE were announced in NRS [Novoe Russkoe Slovo] so relatively early – already in the second half of September – before Jacqueline [de Proyart], Hélèn [Peltier], and [Giangiacomo] Feltrinelli himself had hoped for the Russian edition to see the light of day.

However, it seems to me that Berberova in her article was simply repeating the information, by then outdated, that she had obtained from Souvarine in January 1958. Her statements do not show that she was in any way au fait of what was going on with the Mouton saga.   However, Milrud’s testimony, reported by Fleishman, still leave open the challenge of understanding how much TsOPE was involved in the events related to the Mouton edition. And while it is by now accepted by scholars that there was no printing of the Russian text on the part of TsOPE, other forms of involvement (proof checking, distribution, etc.) are a definite possibility.


Fleishman, Lazar. 2009. Vstrecha russkoĭ ėmigratsii s ‘Doktorom Zhivago’: Boris Pasternak i kholodnaia voĭna [The encounter of the Russian émigré community with “Doctor Zhivago”: Boris Pasternak and the Cold War]. Stanford Slavic Studies 38.

Fleishman, Lazar. 2013. Boris Pasternak i Nobelevskaia premiia [Boris Pasternak and the Nobel Prize]. Moscow: Azbukovnik (a new edition of Fleishman 2009).

Mancosu, Paolo. 2013. Inside the Zhivago Storm: The Editorial Adventures of Pasternak’s Masterpiece. Milan: Feltrinelli.

Mancosu, Paolo, 2016, Zhivago’s Secret Journey, Hoover Press, Stanford.

Pasternak, Boris. 1994. Lettres àmes amies françaises: 1956–1960. Introduction and notes by Jacqueline de Proyart. Paris: Gallimard.