Zhivago in Mexico and South America (Mexico and Uruguay)

The Spanish edition

Feltrinelli began selling the translation rights to the Zhivago in Spring 1957. The first to obtain translation rights was Collins, followed in the fall by Gallimard. On November 25 1957, Feltrinelli had expressed himself pessimistically about the possibility of publishing the novel in Spain. He wrote to his agent Gaisenheyner:

“Zu Spanien haben wir dass Buch nicht verkauft werden es auch auf grunder der dort wirkenden politischen Lage nich noch verkaufen.”[sic] (Fondo Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, dossier Gaisenheyner))

But in 1958, Feltrinelli sold the translation rights for the Spanish language to the Editorial Noguer of Barcelona (with an important branch in Mexico). Noguer signed the contract with Feltrinelli on November 14, 1958


El Doctor Jivago, Noguer, Barcelona-Mexico,

Feltrinelli also gave Noguer the rights and distribution over Mexico, Central America, and all of South America, except Brazil. Indeed, Noguer immediately published two editions in Mexico (15,000 copies in 1958) in November (the copyright page says October for the first edition but that’s misleading). On November 26 , in La Vanguardia Española (p. 19), Noguer justified the late launching of the book in Spain (i.e. with the third edition) on account of the heavy demand in Latin America. The person who was key to the publication of the Zhivago at Noguer was José Pardo, who informed Feltrinelli about the success of the book on February 10, 1959. The book had been published just after the Nobel Prize award. In two months, that is until the close of 1958, it had sold 63,000 copies (including the 15,000 published in Mexico). In 1958 there were eight editions (printings). By February 10, two more printings had been published with one more in the making (the eleventh). The translation was the work of Fernando Gutierrez. This translation, carried out from the Italian edition, was thus the only licensed one and as such it was the only one that could be sold from Mexico to Argentina.

So much for the authorized Spanish edition. But soon after the Nobel Prize six different pirate editions were being prepared and five of them actually appeared, in addition to a digest of the novel. It is now quite difficult to list them in chronological order as we have scant information, for obvious reasons, as to when exactly the editions were prepared and when they exactly came out. Of the six pirate editions, one came out in Mexico, two in Uruguay and two in Argentina. A third pirate edition in Argentina was stopped successfully by Feltrinelli’s lawyer Tesone. In this post I will deal with Mexico and Uruguay.

Mexico. The pirate edition that came out in Mexico was published by “Ediciones Capricornio”and was titled “El Doctor Yivago”.


El Doctor Yivago, Capricornio, Mexico, 1958

This edition is now quite difficult to find. It has 537 pages and was translated by Vladimir Koslov y Jorge Diez Cardoso. This translation was carried out on the English translation published by Collins (which is different from the Pantheon translation, itself a revised translation of the Collins one). It is easy to confirm this by looking at the list of main characters of the novel (taken straight out of the Collins edition), the table of content (which translates the title of Chapter 11 as “La hermandad del bosque” (Forest brotherhood) as opposed to “la milicia” or “el ejercito” as in the Italian and French versions), and the very first page of the translation. That the translation is the Collins one and not the revised Pantheon one is shown by the fact that the very first line of translation gives the hymn as “Memoria Eterna”: the British translation has “Eternal Memory” whereas the American one changed it to “Rest Eternal”. The French uses “chant funèbre” and although the Italian translation has “Memoria Eterna” it misses a whole sentence later in the page that is contained in this translation (and the British text). In any case the syntactic analysis of the first page of translation shows unequivocally that the Collins translations was the source.


F. Zendejas, La Pasión de Pasternak, LibroMex, Mexico, 1958

A brief mention should also be made of a book that contained fragments of Doctor Zhivago (also spelled ‘Doctor Yivago’), also without Feltrinelli’s permission, namely Zendejas’ La Pasión de Pasternak (1958).

The book contains, in addition to two essays on Pasternak by Francisco Zendejas and Victor Alba, respectively, two prose fragments (which had already appeared in the literary supplement Mexico en la Cultura of November 9, 1958) and eight poems of the Zhivago cycle translated from English. The book contains some beautiful drawings by Vlady, i.e. Victor Serge’s son, who had settled in Mexico with his father in 1941 (On Vlady see Jean-Guy Rens, Vlady. De la Revolución al renacimiento, Sigli XXI Editores, México, 2005). It was published on November 22, 1958.

Uruguay. Moving now to Uruguay, we have two editions. The first by Editorial Minerva was translated by Vicente Oliva. It has 542 pages.


El doctor Zhivago, Editorial Minerva, Montevideo, 1958

It came out in at least two editions (the second one of which was printed on December 10, 1958) but both of them after the Nobel Prize.

The other edition was printed by Ediciones Ciceron and came out in 1959 (589 pp.). The translation was by Juan Manuel Alfieri.

Both editions were made from the Italian translation, as it is soon revealed by the omission of a line of prayer in both translations (this omission is found in Zveteremich’s translation and it was an obvious oversight since the original Russian typescript has it and it is in fact found in both the French and the English translations). Incidentally, the Italian translation made by Pietro Zveteremich (see Mancosu, 2013, pp.29-34) was modified in the course of the years (see Iannello 2009).


El Doctor Yivago, Ediciones Ciceron, Montevideo, 1959

Despite being pirate editions they both claim copyright in the first pages of the book. In the next post I will discuss the pirate editions published in Argentina. Unlike those discussed so far, the Argentinian situation was to create some interesting troubles for Feltrinelli and Pasternak.




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.


Susana Soca and Boris Pasternak

At the end of October 1956, Pasternak received a letter from a stranger. The writer was Susana Soca (1906-1959), a Uruguayan poetess. She told Pasternak that she had tried to phone him from Moscow but that she had failed to reach him.


Susana Soca (1906-1959)

Between 1947 and 1948 Soca edited Les Cahiers de la Licorne in Paris and then from 1953 to 1959 the Entregas de la Licorne in Montevideo. Soca is a fascinating personality and it is not surprising that several biographical studies (by Loustaunau, Litvan, and others) and two book length biographies of Soca have been published (Alvarez 2001, 2007, and Amengual 2012). Both biographies devote much attention to the connection Soca-Pasternak.

I have recently found new documents that add to our knowledge of Soca’s connection to Pasternak and his family and I would like to present these new documents in this post.

My attention to Soca is also instrumental in clarifying the relationship between Pasternak, Hélène Peltier, and the French publishing world. This is a topic that has consequences for claims made about Soca’s involvement, or lack thereof, with Doctor Zhivago but


Juan Álvarez Márquez, Más allá del ruego: vida de Susana Soca (2007)

I will not discuss that part of the story in this post. The letter from Susana Soca to Pasternak has been partially translated into Spanish (Amengual 2012, p. 353, with photograph of the original letter in the appendix; however, the name of Robin was not correctly identified) but has not been published in its original French or in English translation. From the letterhead it can be inferred that the letter was written at the National Hotel in Moscow (The letterhead also displays the Intourist logo). The letter is dated Sunday 21 [October 1956].

Sunday, the 21st


I am leaving this instant for Vienna after calling you without success at the number that the young Spanish language specialist at the Russian writers association – it is my native tongue, (I am from Uruguay, in South America) – gave me. She incidentally told me that you would not be here until tonight.

I am quite struck at the thought of having nearly met you. You were the only person I wished to see in Moscow, where I came too fast as I am now going back to Montevideo. I write as well and your poetry is so important to me, at a time when poetry counts for so little in the world that it can and must be of importance to those who live by its side only when it is admirable.


Claudia Amengual, Rara Avis. Vida y obra de Susana Soca (2012)

Robin [Armand Robin], your translator had told me a lot about you. And what I would like to ask from you is 2 or 3 poems, untranslated if possible, for the journal I am editing. I am not familiar enough with Russian to dare doing it myself, without a poet of your language. Could you let me know what needs to be done? I was not able to find your poems.

Susana Soca

The young lady at the writers’ association has my address and I am sending her the journal for you. (Courtesy of Elena Vladimirovna Pasternak and Petr Pasternak, Moscow; original in French)

Although the letter was written on October 21, Soca probably entrusted it to someone else

(given that she was leaving the morning after) and the letter was sent after a few days, for the envelope is stamped October 25 on the recto side and October 26 on the verso side. Upon receiving this letter, Pasternak did not even know the name of the journal that Soca edited but by November 23 (when he wrote to his sister Lydia, see below) he was familiar with it, most probably because Soca had sent him the promised copy and it had reached him. As we shall see, Pasternak was quite flattered by Soca’s letter.

The first mention of Soca to his sister Lydia is contained in a letter by Pasternak written on November 23, 1956:

Although I will write about this to professor Berlin in English for practice, but you should know about my request as well. When I am asked for anything for magazines beyond the border, I think the most important thing is that same introduction [Autobiography, aka Autobiographical sketch] which you’ve read. Berlin took it of his own good will, I believe he had the desire to translate the essay and place it somewhere. I repeated many times that that was possible and desirable. But perhaps, B. and his friends don’t have time, or have lost the desire, or they have come across another obstacle. That is another issue. In any case, the request is the following: In Moscow, a publisher of an art magazine, the “Unicorn” from South America, sought to meet me, but due to the brevity of her stay (she left quickly), was unable to achieve this. Her letter is so fervent and brash, that I would like to send her this essay for the magazine. She does not know Russian. If the English or French translation of this essay (the autobiographical essay) is ready or is reaching its completion, I will ask B.[erlin] or GM [Katkov] to send a copy of the translation to her address: Señora Susana Soca, 824 San José, Montevideo, Uruguay. At the worst, also send her the original manuscript, if it is not being translated – it is more likely to arrive from you. (Pasternak 2004, p. 790; original in Russian)

(Incidentally, the sentence ‘Она не знает по русски’, ‘she does not know Russian’, was dropped by mistake from the transcription of the letter in the Russian editions of Pasternak’s family letters. I checked the original which is in the Pasternak Family Papers at Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford.)


Logo of Entregas de la Licorne

By then, Pasternak had received a copy of Entregas de la Licorne, the literary journal edited by Susana Soca.

The day after he wrote to Berlin instructing him to send Soca the original of the autobiographical essay:

Now would you not give away half a kingdom, should a foreign lady write you. Vous étiez la seule personne que je désirais voir à Moscou … Votre poésie est pour moi tellement importante à un moment où la poésie ne peut et ne doit compter dans le monde que quand elle est admirable … etc, etc ….

Take the manuscript of my autobiographical preface (it lies at Oxford useless to you) and send it to:

Senora Susana Soca

824 San José Montevideo Uruguay

Do it, I pray you. (Pasternak to Berlin November 24, 1956; The Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust)

While it is hard to know when exactly Pasternak replied to Soca, I conjecture that he had already done so by November 4 and without any doubt before November 14. Indeed, in a letter to his sisters written on November 4, Pasternak said:

There have been delegations here from the West, and some of them suggested that the autobiographical sketch should be suitable for a journal such as Encounter, or some French equivalent. Why hasn’t that happened? Has the material been rejected as insufficiently interesting? If the autobiographical sketch, or selected extracts from it, were to be published in the West, that would greatly assist the projects I’ve just described, which I’ve been intentionally holding up until the editors have seen the autobiography. G.M. [Katkov] and his friend mustn’t be surprised if they get requests for copies of it from unexpected parts of the world such as Bulgaria or Uruguay or Argentina. (Pasternak 2010, p. 385)

The mention of Uruguay is surely not accidental. Katkov’s friend is obviously Isaiah Berlin. Already on November 15, Soca wrote a telegram to Pasternak from Paris saying “Reçu textes Ecrirai de Montevideo Merci pour tout Susana Soca”. It is obvious that Pasternak had replied to her and in all likelihood had sent the two poems that she ended up publishing (“Without title” and “In the hospital”) in the August 1957 issue of Entregas de la Licorne. Indeed, as it transpires from the correspondence between Lydia Pasternak and Susana Soca (see below), Pasternak seems to have sent to Soca several poems, perhaps as many as ten. I exclude he had sent at this stage the first part of the Autobiography which was also published in the same issue of Entregas de la Licorne. If he had done so there would have been no need to ask Lydia and Berlin, as late as November 23, to send the Autobiography to Soca. The issue was certainly discussed in Oxford where the debate about whether to publish anything by Boris (including the Autobiography) at the moment was occupying Maurice Bowra, George Katkov, Lydia and Josephine Pasternak, and Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was adamant that it was better to wait. A passage from Lydia’s diary from December 7, 1956, informs us that Berlin was also against publication in Uruguay:

Berlin called – talked for a long time, he’s even against printing in Uruguay. (Lydia Pasternak’s diary, December 7, 1956; Pasternak Family Papers, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford)

Since the only address Soca had given Pasternak was a Montevideo address, it appears that Pasternak sent the letter to Montevideo. That Pasternak’s letter was sent to Montevideo is also confirmed by a footnote added to the third and last installment (the first had appeared in August 1957, issues 9-10, pp. 19-30  and the second in 1958, issue 11, pp. 75-80) of Pasternak’s excerpts from the Autobiography, which were published in Entregas de La Licorne, 12, 1959 (Boris Pasternak: Memorias. Los años del novecientos, pp. 9-16).

Regrettably, Pasternak’s first (and perhaps only) letter to Soca can no longer be located. However, Susana Soca gave a rather lengthy excerpt of the letter in a piece she published in August 1957 in Entregas de la Licorne.


Susana Soca. Photo by Gisèle Freund

The relevant passage is the following:

But this is nothing at all. They are no more than trifles. I have the feeling that, just in front of our eyes, a completely new era is being born and that it will develop every day without our noticing it. It is new for the tasks it will have to face as well as for the requirements of the heart and of human dignity; it develops silently and without doubt it will never be officially inaugurated. Some unrelated poems and of a specific character are an insufficient measure for meditation on such vast, such complex and novel things. Only prose and philosophy legitimate an attempt in this direction. It is for this reason that the best I have accomplished in my life, up to this point, is the novel Doctor Zhivago… I blush when I realize that, on account of a rather sad set of events, I have gained a truly excessive reputation, based on my early writings, while my most recent work, whose significance is altogether different, are ignored (especially in the area of the novel). (Excerpt from a letter from Pasternak to Sosa, first published in Spanish in Entregas de la Licorne 1957, p. 9; and then in original French in Marcha, 1959, p. 20)

In a footnote Soca explicitly says that the above passage is from Pasternak’s reply to her first letter. It is quite obvious that Pasternak’s letter contained more and in my forthcoming book (see acknowledgements) I reconstruct the other parts of the letter which, as I have mentioned, regarded Peltier’s role in negotiations between the French publishers and Pasternak. I will not pursue this here.

Part of the correspondence between Lydia Pasternak Slater and Susana Soca is preserved in the Pasternak Family Papers at Hoover Institution Library and Archives. The early part of the correspondence between Lydia Pasternak and Susana Soca (and her secretary and Russian teacher Nadia Verbina) and further correspondence between Verbina and Pasternak was not available to Álvarez Márquez and Amengual when they wrote their biographies of Soca. For this reason, I will add here some new information and provide translations of the relevant documents.

The first contact between Lydia Pasternak and Susana Soca seems to have been established by Lydia who, not knowing which languages Soca mastered and having been told by Boris that Soca did not know Russian (see letter from Boris to Lydia cited above), wrote in French in late December 1956.


Susana Soca and her portrait by Pablo Picasso (Photo by André Ostier, Paris 1943)

She told Soca that she and her sister Josephine differed from her brother’s opinion about the advisability of publishing something in translation that had not yet been published in Russian. She also tried to put Soca in contact with her long time friend, Anatol (Tolya) Saderman, who had previously lived in Montevideo and was now a renowned photographer in Buenos Aires. Lydia’s idea was that Saderman could perhaps assist with the translation of her brother’s texts into Spanish. Here is the draft of Lydia Pasternak’ s letter to Susana Soca sent soon after Christmas 1956 and before the new year:

Dear Madam,

Merry Christmas (too late!) and happy new year!

Please forgive me for my horrible French – I use it only because I know that you don’t understand Russian and I don’t know if you know English. My brother has asked me to send you his article ?; I will do so in a few days when I hope to receive the copies but they are in Russian. Would it be possible for you to have them translated or would you prefer that I arrange for them to be translated first? I have a very good Russian friend, a bit of an amateur poet, who has lived for many years in Montevideo (perhaps you know him? his name is Anatole Saderman, a photographer-artist) and for this reason he could probably translate the article without problem (if he has time!) I will send him a copy and ask him if he wants to do it. Perhaps you would be able to communicate with him directly? His address now is A. Saderman Lavalle Buenos Aires, Argentina

My brother is of a different opinion but my sister and I we are very worried not to have published it before it has appeared in Russia prefer that this article is not published abroad before it is published in Russia, this could be dangerous.

All the very best

I wish you, dear madam, a happy new year, joyful and peaceful. Lydia Pasternak Slater (Pasternak Family Papers, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford, Box 100, folder “Soca”; original in French)

A reply written in Russian by Susana Soca’s secretary, Nadia Verbina, on January 14, 1957 reads:

Montevideo 14. I-1957.

Dearest Madame Slater!

I am responding upon Miss Soca’s request. Miss Soca asks to tell you that she perfectly understands, reads, and speaks Russian, but writes with difficulty, therefore I am the one responding. She also perfectly knows English, German, and French, so that in the future you could write to her in whichever of these 4 or 5 languages. Right now Miss Soca with my help is translating your brother’s poems and will try to print them in the next issue of her magazine. When you send your brother’s other books, Miss Soca will immediately try to translate and print all that will be possible.

Greetings, Nadezhda Verbina.

The letter clarifies some uncertainty in the literature as to whether Verbina’s connection to Lydia Pasternak Slater predates the contact between Pasternak and Soca. It is obvious from the above exchange that Verbina had no contact with Lydia before this exchange. As it transpires from Lydia’s diary, the first half of the Autobiography was sent by Lydia to Soca on February 27, 1957:

“looked through Borya’s photocopy, sorted the first part, ending with Tolstoy’s death, gathered all the business papers, went […] to the bank […] put Borya’s [[documents]] in the big purchased envelope […] went finally (intended since the morning) to the post office, sent Soca half of Borya’s manuscript (regist, airmail), and also a pink slip so as to know.” (Pasternak Family Papers, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford).

Replies by Soca (in French) and Verbina (in Russian) followed on 24 and 25 April 1957 announcing that the translator for the Autobiography had been found (the translator’s name is not mentioned but his name was Gregorio Hintz). Here is the letter by Soca:


Armand Robin (1912-1961), translator of Pasternak (Poèmes de Boris Pasternak, 1946)

Dear Madam,

I received with joy your brother’s admirable essay [récit, as in Autobiographical Essay]. We are trying to have it translated here at the moment and Mme Verbina and I are working on the translation. A part of the poems is here. But I was counting on Armand Robin, translator of your brother’s poems into French, for a more elegant job. Robin has a lot of talent but he is very pessimistic and rather bizarre. He claims, against all evidence, that I have not left with him the six poems that he had chosen in Paris. I am rather intrigued by this attitude. I attribute it to a political reason. At this moment he his an anarchist and furiously anti-soviet. I wonder whether this is not better for your brother in a certain sense. But we must recover the poems. I beg you to write personally to Mr. Robin. As I do not have the address I give you the address of an Uruguayan writer who his the middle man in my relation to Robin, a young poet in the style of the poet Jules Supervielle and who admires your brother very much. I hope to meet you during my next trip and I look forward to your opinion on the matter of Robin’s attitude once you have received his response.

paseyro crop

Ricardo Paseyro (1925-2009)

With very best wishes, Susana Soca

P.S. The address is Mr Ricardo Paseyro. Pour Mr Armand Robin 12 rue Massenet XVI Paris (Pasternak Family Papers, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford, box 100, folder 5; original in French).

Ricardo Paseyro is often mentioned in Alvarez 2001, 2007 and Amengual 2012. He was a poet and a diplomat and had married the daughter of Jules Supervielle (see Paseyro 2007 for his memoirs). It is regrettable that we don’t have Lydia’s letter which accompanied the sending of the Autobiography, for it would have clarified the issue concerning Robin and the poems (incidentally, there is also no extant correspondence between Lydia Pasternak and Robin or Paseyro among Lydia’s papers and correspondence). Nadia Verbina also added a letter:

Montevideo 24. IV 1957

Dearest Miss Slater. I am adding a few lines to Madame Soca’s letter. All this time we attempted to find a translator (who knows Russian and Spanish perfectly), but we still haven’t been able to come across anyone appropriate. We are translating, when possible, (excerpts) from the your brother’s autobiography. Madame Soca is hoping to publish at least excerpts in her magazine.

Regarding the poems, we still haven’t received anything from Paris. When you will be writing to Armand Robin, (he has the 5 best poems), also write to Mr. Paseyro (he really loves your brother’s poems), and we hope that he will be able to find out everything that interests us from Mr. Robin.

My most sincere and heartfelt greetings, N. Verbina [[signature]] (Pasternak Family Papers, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford, box 100, folder 5; original in Russian).

Verbina also wrote a follow up letter on the following day:

 Montevideo 25. IV 57

Dearest Madame Slater!

Yesterday we sent your letter and also found a translator. Madame Soca asks me to tell you that she is sincerely happy and hopes to soon print your brother’s novel.

Greetings, N. Verbina [[signature]] (Pasternak Family Papers, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford, box 100, folder 5; original in Russian).

By “novel” here Verbina meant the Autobiographical Essay, as it is clear from the previous letter.

We know from her diary that Lydia replied on May 24, 1957 but this letter is not extant (Soca’s Nachlaß vanished after her untimely death in January 1959).

Let me conclude with a few more documents. On August 7, 1957, Pasternak mentions Soca to Lydia again:

“Are you familiar with Soca personally, that is, have you seen her? She was here at some point, wanted to meet me, but didn’t have time, and wrote to me while leaving. She really interests me.” (Pasternak 2004b, p. 794)

On the same day Boris also wrote to Soca:

Dear friend,

I still preserve a vivid remembrance of you, of your admirable considerations, and of the cramped characters in your letter, despite the fact that we did not manage to meet personally. How are you? Since the middle of March I have been ill, I have been terribly ill for four months and I did not think I would be able to be again the person I once was. But, thank God, since not long I am miraculously the same person I was.

During this time and earlier, in Winter, our literary situation changed. It is hopeless to think that my novel will appear (“Doctor Zhivago”) nor will my book of poems for which I had already written the preface.

For this reason I would prefer if no one concerned himself about what they do with me here and one should not postpone my publications abroad on account of a worry concerning me which is erroneous and undesirable. (…) Have you read in “Esprit” [March 1957] the lovely essay by Aucouturier and the poems he wonderfully translated in a surprisingly rhymed version? If I have the right to judge the perfection of this translation from my Russian point of view, I would say that it is the acme of poetical richness and sonority.

If you would like to make me happy please write me a few lines. As soon as I have confirmation that you received my letter, I will send you a few new texts.

Your unconditional admirer,

Boris Pasternak

The letter is translated into Spanish in Álvarez Márquez (2007, pp. 134-135) without indication of source. My translation into English is from the Spanish text published there. Álvarez Márquez could unfortunately no longer find a copy of the original letter. Petr and Elena Vladimirovna Pasternak have informed me that the original of this letter is kept at RGALI in Moscow. It was part of the Ivinskaya papers and it appears not to have been sent to Soca. Thus, it seems that there was altogether only one letter that Pasternak sent to Soca. Indeed, this also seems confirmed by the last document I would like to present, namely Verbina’s letter to Pasternak dated October 6, 1957:

Montevideo 6 10-1957.

Most esteemed Boris Leonidovich!

On September 25 [of this year], during the lecture read by Madame Susana Soca at the Soviet-Uruguay Institute, the Uruguayan public was acquainted with your biography, your quest, [and] poetry. The poems were translated by Susana Soca into Spanish. You can imagine the difficulty that the translation of poetry presents, but Susana Soca overcame this difficulty successfully. [[We]] Truly worked hard and with love.

Being in Moscow with Susana Soca, I was hoping to meet you, but fate decided otherwise. I am very, very sorry [[it didn’t work out]], but I do not lose hope in filling that blank during our next trip.

Susana Soca sent you via air mail the issue of “La Licorne” in which her lecture, poems translated by her, and your biography are printed. As soon as the second issue is released with the continuation, we will immediately send it to you.

<handwritten> The most heartfelt and sincere greetings and best wishes,

Nadezhda Verbina (S. Soca’s secretary) (Pasternak Papers, Moscow, Private archive owned by Elena Leonidovna Pasternak; original in Russian)

The lack of any acknowledgement of a letter written by Pasternak in August suggests that Pasternak never sent the second letter to Soca (or if he sent it, it had not arrived). Importantly, given that the topic of Soca’s knowledge of Russian has been discussed in the secondary literature,  we also obtain  confirmation that the poems were translated into Spanish by Soca (obviously with Verbina’s help; for the translated poems click here). The lecture in question must have been “Encuentro y desencuentro”Screen Capture entregas published as the first item in Entregas de la Licorne 9-10, 1957 (pp. 7-14). The continuation of the translation of the excerpt from the Autobiography was published in the 1958 and 1959 issues of Entregas de la Licorne. Verbina also mentions that she was with Soca in Moscow in October 1956 and that she regrets that they had been unable to meet. Nadia Verbina will come back on this issue also in a letter to Pasternak written in 1960.  In that letter she said  that although Pasternak does not know her, she was Susana Soca’s secretary and that they were together in Moscow when Susana Soca tried to get in touch with Pasternak “without managing to see him” (The 1960 letter is reproduced photographically in Amengual 2012).

There does not seem to have been much correspondence in 1958 involving Soca and the Pasternaks but on November 5, 1958, – that is immediately after the Nobel Prize Scandal in the USSR – Soca sent a telegram from Montevideo to Lydia Pasternak Slater:

Thinking anxiously about your brother and you stop wish to see you at end November stop will write = Susana Soca (Pasternak Family Papers, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford, box 100, folder 5; original in Russian).

Soca died in an airplane accident in Rio de Janeiro on January 8, 1959.


Susana Soca in Montevideo (approximately 1936)

She had just visited Lydia for the first time. Lydia wrote to Boris: “Susana also died, in an aircrash, on her return from her first visit with us. I simply cannot get over it and fear that you too will be struck terribly by these news. (Don’t mention it if you will reply to me, since J.<osephine> doesn’t yet know anything about her death.)” (Postcard from Lydia to Boris, dated January 25, 1959; original in Russian, courtesy of Elena Vladimirovna Pasternak and Petr Pasternak).

After Soca’s death, there was further correspondence between Lydia Pasternak, Nadia Verbina, and Boris Pasternak but since it has been already cited in Alvarez 2001, 2007 and Amengual 2012 I will stop here.

Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to Juan Álvarez Márquez for many interesting email and Skype conversations on Susana Soca and for having sent me useful documents and pictures in his possession. I am also very grateful to Elena Vladimirovna Pasternak and Petr Pasternak (Moscow) for permission to quote the 1959 postcard from Lydia Pasternak Slater to Boris, the Pasternak Trust (Oxford) for permission to use Lydia’s letter to Soca and excerpts from Lydia’s diaries (for which they hold the copyright), to Elena Leonidovna Pasternak (Moscow) for permission to use Verbina’s letter to Pasternak from October 1957, to the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust for permission to quote the letter from Pasternak to Berlin, and to the Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford  for permission to use Lydia’s diaries and the correspondence between Susana Soca, Nadia Verbina, and Lydia Pasternak Slater. Finally, last but not least, many thanks to Hoover Institution archivist Lora Soroka, to Hoover Institution deputy archivist Linda Bernard, and to the associate director of Hoover Institution Eric Wakin. The documents in original language will be published in a forthcoming book of mine to be published by Hoover Press in 2016. Parts of this post are excerpted from the forthcoming book.


See the useful page on Susana Soca in “Autores del Uruguay” (click here)

Álvarez Márquez, J., Susana Soca, esa desconocida, Linardi y Risso, Montevideo, 2001.

Álvarez Márquez, J., Más allá del ruego: vida de Susana Soca, Linardi y Risso, Montevideo, 2007.

Amengual, C., Rara Avis. Vida y obra de Susana Soca, Taurus, Montevideo, 2012

Entregas de la Licorne, volumes 9-10, Montevideo, 1957 [this issue contains Soca’s lecture on Pasternak, Soca’s translation of two poems by Pasternak, and the first part of the excerpts from Pasternak’s Autobiography]

Entregas de la Licorne, volume 11, Montevideo, 1958 [this issue contains the translations of the second part of the excerpts from Pasternak’s Autobiography]

Entregas de la Licorne, volume 12, Montevideo, 1959 [this issue contains the translations of the third and last part of the excerpts from Pasternak’s Autobiography]

Entregas de la Licorne, volume 16, Montevideo, 1961 [this issue contains many articles with remembrances of Susana Soca]

Paseyro, R., Toutes les circonstances sont aggravantes, Rocher, Monaco, 2007

Pasternak, B., Pis’ma k roditeliam i sestram 1907-1960, Moscow, 2004

Pasternak, B., Boris Pasternak. Family Correspondence 1921-1960, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 2010

Smugglers, Rebels, Pirates

Zivago nella tempestaThe past two months have been very active on the Zhivago front.

The Italian translation of Inside the Zhivago Storm came out on August 27 with a new introduction for the Italian reader.

Lengthy positive reviews have already appeared in “La Lettura” (August 23, 2015), a cultural insert of Il Corriere della Sera, and in Il Giornale (August 15, 2015). A radio interview with Paolo Mancosu and Serena Vitale led by Felice Cimatti for Fahrenheit (RAI 3) took place on September 21 and can be heard here.

In addition, Hoover Press, Stanford, published at the beginning of September the catalog of a book exhibit on Doctor Zhivago‘s first editions titled Smugglers, Rebels, Pirates. Itineraries in the publishing history of Doctor Zhivago. The catalog details the publication history of all the Russian editions in the West, the editions in languages beyond the Iron Curtain, and the South American editions. SmugglersThe book exhibit will be part of what might well turn out to be the most important conference on Pasternak in the 21st century (for the Hoover Institution announcement click here).

The conference, organized by Professor Lazar Fleishman, will take place at Stanford from September 28 to October 2.

The title of the conference is “Poetry and Politics in the Twentieth Century: Boris Pasternak, His Family, and His Novel Doctor Zhivago”.  For a detailed description click here.


Carlo Feltrinelli and Paolo Mancosu at the IIC in Paris

[Added 9/30/2015] My key-note address at the Pasternak conference was delivered on September 28, 2015, at Hoover Institution. The title of the talk was “Censorship and Freedom in the Cold War: Pasternak, Feltrinelli and the publication of Doctor Zhivago”. You can read about the event and see some pictures by clicking here.

[Added 12/20/2015]

The Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Paris organized on November 6 a presentation of the Italian translation of the book (Zivago nella Tempesta) with Carlo Feltrinelli, Paolo Mancosu, and Marina Valensise (direttrice dell’Istituto).

Hélène Peltier, Boris Pasternak, and Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

At the beginning of December 2014 I finally found the time to go to Sylvanès in Southern France (one hour from Albi) to work through the Hélène Peltier archive. Hélène Peltier (1924-2012), married Zamoyska, was a French Slavic scholar who taught at Toulouse. She became part of the team of French translators of Doctor Zhivago (with Michel Aucouturier, Jacqueline de Proyart, and Louis Martinez). Peltier had visited Pasternak in the fall of 1956 and on that occasion had been given a copy of Doctor Zhivago (see Lettres à mes amies françaises, Gallimard, 1994 (henceforth Lettres 1994), pp. 20-21). I will return on a different occasion to the early history of Doctor Zhivago in France. In this post my main aim is to clarify the nature of a mysterious strip of paper preserved in the Feltrinelli archives in Milan.

In Sylvanès, I was a guest of André Gouzes, a dear friend of Hélène and her husband, the Polish sculptor August Zamoyski (1893-1970) (click here for a 1976 interview featuring August and Hélène). André was also instrumental in creating the Musée Zamoyski. Before dying Hélène entrusted André with her Nachlaß. I can’t even begin to describe the enormous impression André Gouzes, a most generous host, left on me.

Sylvanès by A. Gouzes and R. Poujol

Sylvanès by A. Gouzes and R. Poujol

An internationally renowned composer of sacred music, he was also the main force behind the reconstruction of one of the most beautiful Cistercian monasteries of Southern France, namely the Abbaye de Sylvanès. The story of that incredible project and of the visionary spirit and practical skills that André brought to it is recounted in the moving book co-authored by André Gouzes and René Pujol, Sylvanès. Histoire d’une passion (Desclée de Brouwer, 2010), which I highly recommend.

Let me begin with a short summary of Hélène Peltier’s career up to the late 1950s. Hélène was born in Riga on March 22, 1924. She finished the first part of her high school degree (Baccalauréat; Greek and Latin) in June 1940 in Lannion. She then spent the year 1940-1941 in Stockholm where she studied mathematics. In 1942, in Toulon, she took the second part of her Baccalauréat in Philosophy. In 1942-43 she was in “Classe de Prémière Supérieure” at the Lycée Camille Sée in Paris. From 1943 to 1946 she studied Russian at the School of Oriental Languages in Paris obtaining her degree in 1946. She was then a student at the University of Moscow from 1946 to 1950. She has left detailed narrations of this period of her life which are of great interest, especially on account of the fact that at the time almost no Westerners were allowed to study in Soviet Universities. During this period she attended several courses in literature and philology but also took the required courses on Marxism-Leninism. Back in France in 1950, she obtained her “licence en russe” at the Sorbonne and was “chargée de mission” for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. In 1953 she obtained her degree of advanced studies (D.E.A.) writing a thesis on K. Fedin. In 1953-1954 she was an assistant to the cultural attaché to the French Embassy in Moscow. In 1954 she obtained her “agregation” in Russian and taught at the Lycée Classique de Jeunes Filles in Toulouse from 1954 to 1957. In 1957 she became “assistante de russe” at the University of Toulouse where she stayed for the remaining part of her professional life.

Hélène Peltier (1924-2012)

Hélène Peltier (1924-2012)

Peltier met Pasternak in September 1956. The reason for her visit to Moscow was occasioned by a request by M. Coblot, editor of the review “Cahiers Pédagogiques”, who proposed to Peltier to write an article on the teaching of French in the USSR. She obtained a scholarship from the “Relations Culturelles” office and she went to Moscow for six weeks arriving in late August 1956 and departing in mid-October 1956. She lived on the Lenin Hills, the location of the new buildings of Moscow University. The French Embassy in Moscow informed the Soviet authorities of Peltier’s research subject and Peltier reports that she was given efficient and quick help by the Soviets. After going back to France she wrote a 29 page report detailing the state of teaching of French in the USSR and making a few recommendations for the improvement of the relations between France and the USSR in this area. During her stay in Moscow in fall 1956, Peltier met Pasternak three times.

Hélène Peltier

Hélène Peltier

In Lettres 1994, one can read the letters from Pasternak to Peltier written while she was in Moscow and Pasternak and Pasternak 1997 also includes the letters from Peltier to Pasternak. During this period, Pasternak put her in charge of seeking publishers for Doctor Zhivago in France and also gave her a copy of the typescript of Doctor Zhivago. Back in France, Peltier was in contact with several publishers, including Rocher, Fasquelle and Gallimard. I will discuss in a future post this early interest concerning Doctor Zhivago in France. Here I will simply say that Gallimard’s interest in Doctor Zhivago had emerged even before Peltier’s return from the Soviet Union. Indeed, Pasternak had already spoken about his new novel with Aucouturier and Martinez (see previous post on “The writer and the valet”) in spring 1956. Confirmation that Doctor Zhivago was of great interest to Gallimard very early on comes from a letter by Manya Harari to Max Hayward (both future translators of Doctor Zhivago into English) written on September 10, 1956. Harari wrote:

I spent the week end in Paris and made my usual call on Gallimard. They are doing a series of Russian books which, I now find, are being edited by Aragon. Among them are “The Thaw” and “Russian Forest” – that was all I could find out, as all the responsible people were away (Friday afternoon in September), and I only saw a girl assistant. But, this is the point, she knew all about P[asternak]’s novel, as she had heard it widely discussed. Not the Ms – she said she didn’t know where that was – but the fact that P. was keen on getting it done abroad and a rumour that an Italian publisher (name unknown) claims to represent P. in negotiating with other publishers.

The publisher was Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Before Peltier left Moscow, Pasternak asked her to convey a message to his publisher. In Carlo Feltrinelli’s book Senior Service (1999) we read:  

“If ever you receive a letter in any language other than French, you absolutely must not do what is requested of you – the only valid letters shall be those written in French.” How Pasternak’s message arrived, written on a cigarette paper, I don’t know” (p. 101 of the American translation, Harcourt, 2001; p. 120 of the original 1999 Italian edition).

The strip of paper is actually torn from an ordinary sheet of paper. In addition to the message in French (…S’il reçoit jamais une lettre dans une autre langue que le français, il ne doit en aucune façon executer ce qui lui serait demandé – les seules lettres valables seront écrites en français.) there is a handwritten part that says “De la part de Pasternak 1/2 Helène Peltier Toulouse 6, Allé des Demoiselles”. (Feltrinelli archives, Milan)

Message from Pasternak to Feltrinelli sent through Peltier

Message from Pasternak to Feltrinelli sent through Peltier

A full clarification of when and how this message reached Feltrinelli requires the joint use of a few archives. I would like to thank Professor Antonello Venturi (Pisa) for having helped me locate some of the materials below and for having granted permission to cite the materials from the Franco Venturi archives. All the correspondence cited below is in French except for the last citation which is originally in Italian. All translations are mine unless otherwise noted.

In the Fondo Franco Venturi in Turin there is a long letter from Peltier to Franco Venturi (1914-1994), a prominent Italian historian, dated October 26, 1956, which gives Venturi an overview of her experiences in the Soviet Union in the fall 1956 (Peltier had left Moscow in mid-October 1956). The parts that is relevant for Pasternak is the following:

The most extraordinary encounter was the one with Pasternak. Through some friends I was acquainted with his most recent poems which had been circulating in secret for some years. But no matter how beautiful they are, they are not as striking as their author. I have seen him three times and once at his place I saw Akhmatova! I cannot convey what these visits were like. I am still bolt over by them. In this connection I would like to ask for your advise. Boris Pasternak has entrusted a copy of his novel to an Italian journalist who handed it to an Italian publisher. In Moscow everyone knows this and Boris Leonidovich does not make efforts to deny the fact. He has explained to me in great detail how this took place. The publisher’s name is Feltrinelli. He lives in Milan in Via Fatebene fratelli [sic] 15. Do you know him? I have been charged [by Pasternak] to deliver him a message but since my name is unknown to Feltrinelli I am afraid that he will not take it seriously. I only have to let him know that if he ever receives a letter from B.L. in any language other than French, he absolutely must not do what is requested of him. The only valid letters shall be those written in French. If you know this Mr. Feltrinelli, I would like to ask you to inform him discreetly; but if you think that I can write to him directly, I will do so. (Peltier to Venturi, October 26, 1956; Archivio privato Franco Venturi, Torino)

Venturi replied to Peltier on November 11, 1956:

Franco Venturi (1914-1994)

Franco Venturi (1914-1994)

It took a bit longer than planned to reply because I wanted to give you some news about the two problems you have asked me about. Concerning the first (Pasternak), I must say that I have hesitated somewhat. Here is the reason: I have known Feltrinelli quite well some years ago. He is an immensely rich man who spends enormous sums for developing a splendid library on the history of socialism. He also funds a history journal “Movimento operaio” (Workers’ movement) which has been coming our for a few years. At the beginning I was on the editorial board. But I handed in my resignation because Feltrinelli was running it more and more along the lines of Stalinism or of an official and orthodox communism. A year ago, Feltrinelli started a big publishing house which does good things but all according to the line. It is true that things have changed a little bit in these past few weeks when I was told that also Feltrinelli was sensitive to the protests against the Russian army for what it is doing in Hungary and that he had reacted normally with respect to this decisive problem. I have immediately asked a trustworthy friend, and one completely suitable for the delivery of the message, to tell Feltrinelli what you wrote to me. So, he now knows. (Venturi a Peltier, 15.11.56; Peltier archive, Sylvanès; original in French)

As Peltier had not heard from Venturi in a while, she decided to write directly to Feltrinelli. In the Peltier Archive there is a draft of the letter she sent dated 17 November 1956. Regrettably the original letter is not found in the Feltrinelli archives. Since the letter contains many erasures, I will summarize its contents. Peltier informed Feltrinelli that she had asked Venturi and his wife to deliver the message from Pasternak and the reasons for why she had asked Venturi to do so. She told Feltrinelli that Pasternak had informed her about the contract he had signed with him and then conveyed to him that he should not trust any communication that was not in French. Here is the original text as it occurs in the draft

“Ne pouvant vs prevenir écrir directement il m’a chargée de vs écrire faire savoir prevenir que si vs recevez par hasard une lettre de lui qui ne soit pas rédigée dans en français de n’en tenir aucune compte. [[…]] Tout ceci pour des raisons [sans doute] que je ne voudrais vous expliquer par lettre.” (Peltier archive, Sylvanès)

She then went on to ask some questions about Feltrinelli’s publishing plans and in particular whether he intended to publish the Russian text. Finally, she added that Pasternak had put her in charge of the destiny of his work in France. In a separate post I will explore the complex tangle of issues that emerged between Peltier, Feltrinelli, Gallimard, and later de Proyart, on account of Pasternak’s attempt to free the French edition of the novel from Feltrinelli’s control. Here I will only remark that the last part of Peltier’s letter would certainly have worried Feltrinelli, for it might have challenged his contractual rights to all the foreign translations. He replied to Peltier on November 20, 1956:

M.lle HELENE PELTIER 6, rue des Demoiselles, TOULOUSE

Dear Miss, I have just received one day after the other your note and your letter of 17 November. I thank you for them. I understand the situation. The book is already being translated and several foreign publishers have already shown their interest. When a final decision will be taken, I will propose your name for the French translation. For the moment, it is out of the question to talk about this with anyone except those persons who are already in the know. This would otherwise block the path to an amiable solution to the problems, a solution which I still hope to be able to achieve. With warmest regards, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Please do excuse my bad French but in this case it is only appropriate that I should write in this language. (Peltier archive, Sylvanès; original in French)

It is quite possible that Peltier’s final letter (as opposed to the draft) was more explicit about some of the issues involved and this would explain why Feltrinelli speaks about an “amiable solution to the problems”. What remains to ascertain is who was Venturi’s friend. The final piece in the link has been available since 1999. The person who brought the message to Feltrinelli was Leo Valiani (1909-1999). In a letter from Valiani to Venturi, dated November 23, 1956, Valiani wrote to Venturi:

I have given to Feltrinelli –who was extremely happy about it– the message from Peltier and I would be grateful if you could convey my name to her immediately. I imagine that Feltrinelli will thank her while mentioning that it was through me that he received the message. (in L. Valiani – F. Venturi, Lettere 1943-1979, a cura di Edoardo Tortarolo, Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1999, p. 218; original in Italian)

It is unclear why Valiani wanted to be mentioned to Peltier but neither Venturi nor Feltrinelli mentioned his name to Peltier. Let me conclude this post by mentioning that Peltier was to remain the main contact point for Pasternak in France until Jacqueline de Proyart’s visit to Peredelkino in early 1957. During this period Peltier took seriously Pasternak’s request to start looking for a publisher in France and was in touch with Rocher, Fasquelle, and Gallimard. They all showed great interest but the story of the publication in France was sealed when de Proyart came back from Moscow in February 1957 and Gallimard became the publisher of choice for the French translation.


Pasternak, El. e Pasternak, Ev., 1997, Perepiska Borisa Pasternaka s Elen Pel’t’e-Zamoiskoi, “Znamia”, 1, pp. 107-143. [“The correspondence between Boris Pasternak and Hélène Peltier”.]

Rapport sur l’enseignement du français en U.R.S.S. (compte-rendu du voyage effectué en URSS en automne 1956 par Mademoiselle H. PELTIER, professeur agrégé de russe), late 1956 or 1957, unpublished, Peltier archive, Sylvanès.

Doctor Zhivago, the CIA, and Feltrinelli’s visa to the USA

In April 2014 the CIA posted on line 99 documents related to the CIA role in the saga of Doctor Zhivago (click here for the documents). All of the CIA documents cited below can be accessed through the given link. Here is the description given on the site:

CIA Publishes Doctor Zhivago in Russian and Exposes Life in USSR under Communism

The CIA has declassified 99 documents describing the CIA’s role publishing Boris Leonidovich Pasternak’s epic novel, Doctor Zhivago, for the first time in Russian in 1958 after it had been banned from being published in the Soviet Union. The Zhivago project was one of many CIA-supported covert publishing programs that involved distributing banned books, periodicals, pamphlets, and other materials to intellectuals in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This collection provides a glimpse into a thoughtful plan to accomplish fast turn-around results without doing harm to foreign partners or Pasternak. Following the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Russian in 1958, Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the popularity of the book skyrocketed, and the plight of Pasternak in the Soviet Union received global media attention. Moscow had hoped to avoid these precipitous outcomes by initially refusing to publish the novel two years earlier. There is no indication in this collection that having Pasternak win the Nobel Prize was part of the Agency’s original plan; however, it contributed to appeals to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and it was a blow to those who insisted that the Soviets in 1958 enjoyed internal freedom. Of note, the documents in this collection show how effective “soft power” can influence events and drive foreign policy.

The documents fall into three major categories: 1) receipt at headquarters of the typescript of Zhivago and plans for its exploitation; 2) dealings with Felix Morrow (although the name is redacted he is easily recognizable) related to the ‘pirate’ Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago printed by Mouton in Holland in September 1958; 3) further exploitation of Zhivago within the book distribution program and production of a new pocket book edition of Doctor Zhivago produced at CIA headquarters (published around July 1959). Of course, this is only rough and ready, for these documents contain a great deal more than that.

The documents bring welcome further confirmation and, in some but not in all cases, more precise details to the reconstruction of the events offered in publications that had appeared before their release and most extensively in my book. Whereas all the details about the Mouton edition were confirmed by the new documents, I have to report one correction to my book that concerns the section (pp. 189-190) on the pocket book edition that appeared in 1959. In my book, I had conjectured that this edition was prepared in Germany by the anti-communist group NTS and printed by their printing press Posev. While the details about NTS cited in that section of my book remain correct, for they are statements from NTS representatives reported by newspapers at the time, it is now clear that the declarations were only intended to mislead public opinion as to the real source of the pocket book edition.

While a short summary of these new CIA documents has appeared in the book by Finn and Couvée, The Zhivago Affair (Pantheon 2014), their extensive use still awaits proper scholarly attention. Indeed, the fact that the documents are redacted leaves many unresolved problems.

In addition, we have to guard against the journalistic inaccuracies that continue to beleaguer the literature on Doctor Zhivago. Upon release of the CIA documents, a French journalist for Le Monde (Le Docteur Jivago au cœur de la guerre froide, June 20, 2014) declared that the documents showed that the typescript of the Zhivago used by the CIA was the one used in the translation of the French version of the novel: “La France est peut-être partie prenante dans l'” affaire Jivago “. L’un des documents rendus -publics par la CIA précise que sa copie du livre de Pasternak provient de l’exemplaire ayant servi à la version française. “. And Michael Scammell in an article in the New York Review of Books (click here for review) stated that the CIA documents showed that British intelligence sent the CIA a “photographic replica of Feltrinelli’s original manuscript”. The CIA documents say nothing about Feltrinelli’s typescript.

Both claims are examples of a kind of shoddiness that has affected the literature on Zhivago (Malta stories etc.) for a long time. One can only hope that it will soon become a thing of the past . To repeat, there is no trace in the CIA documents of any evidence supporting either one of the two claims. The French journalist confused mention of the Autobiography in the CIA documents with Doctor Zhivago, not a small difference. As for Scammell, his statement is all the more surprising as his article was presented as, in part, a review of my book and he mentioned having done independent research on the CIA documents. (For my reply to his review and Scammell’s reply to my reply click here)

Had he read the book carefully, he would have noticed my alerting the reader, on pp. 121-122, that the problem of which typescript of Doctor Zhivago was sent to the CIA is an important problem awaiting solution. Indeed, despite his confident claim, it can easily be shown that the Feltrinelli typescript was not the one used by the CIA. I will provide the evidence in a future post, for the contents of this post relate to something different.

In this post, I would like to show how the new CIA documents and those coming from other archives complement each other. It is important to stress two things. First of all, many of the CIA documents can properly be interpreted, on account of their being redacted, only against the background of information provided by the non CIA archival documents. This is absolutely evident for all that concerns the Mouton edition, Morrow, and the role of the University of Michigan Press. Secondly, the CIA sources are sometimes wide of the mark and one cannot accept everything they state at face value; accordingly, they have to be evaluated against more reliable information coming from non CIA sources. Conversely, the non CIA documents also benefit from being read against the background of what the CIA was up to.

By way of a case study, I would like to focus on what some of the CIA documents report about Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. But since Feltrinelli is mentioned in most of these documents, I have to narrow my focus.

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

I will be after the issue of how it became possible for Feltrinelli to receive a visa to enter the United States of America in early 1959. His communist past and uncertainties about his allegiance in 1958 militated against inviting him. Indeed, in spring 1958 he had been denied a visa to enter the Unites States. However, the State Department had his own interest in wanting to invite Feltrinelli to come to the States, namely they were interested in acquiring all the translation rights for a huge variety of languages in order to use Doctor Zhivago in their book distribution program and their psychological warfare against the Soviet Union. This was not a secondary aim of the CIA. On the contrary it figures from the very beginning as one of the main goals. For instance in the document dated December 12, 1957 we read: “Dr. Zhivago should be published in a maximum number of foreign editions, for maximum free world discussion and acclaim and consideration for such honor as the Nobel prize.” Feltrinelli’s invitation to the Unites States, as we shall see, fits into the plan. However, the CIA documents are not so perspicuous and it is only using the resources of the Feltrinelli archive and some other documents from the National Archives that a fuller picture emerge.

The connection to the State Department emerged through Kyrill Schabert, president of Pantheon, the American publisher of Doctor Zhivago. There is an interesting document preserved at the National Archives in College Park (not part of the documents put on line in May 2014) that explains the interest of granting Feltrinelli a visa to visit the USA. The memo is sent from Louis A. Fanget of ICS [Information Center Services] to H. T. Carter of IGC [Office of General Counsel] (both ICS and IGC were organizations of USIA; for the structure of USIA click here).

United States Information Agency

United States Information Agency

The date is October 31, 1958. Subject: “Doctor Zhivago”:

In planning for exploitation of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, ICS decided to try to acquire permission on rights for translation into the principal Asiatic languages such as Hindi, Galli, Urdu, Arabic and other similar languages. This is customary procedure on books that have special significance for our program. We were informed by the American Publisher of the book, Pantheon Books, that the rights we sought were held by the Firm of Feltrinelli, in Milan. Mr. Kyrill Schabert, President of Pantheon Books, indicated that he was well acquainted with Mr. Feltrinelli and would attempt to get the rights for us. Thus we asked Mr. Schabert to do this in a letter of October 14, 1958.

During the last two weeks a number of posts have asked for language rights for the book and consequently we called Mr. Schabert to learn of progress, if any, we had made with Mr. Feltrinelli. Mr. Schabert indicated that he had not heard, but at our request phoned Mr. Feltrinelli for the information.

Mr. Schabert stated that Mr. Feltrinelli agreed in principle to let us have the rights to the languages we sought. Mr. Schabert indicated that Mr. Feltrinelli surmised that he was seeking the rights in our behalf. Mr. Feltrinelli told Mr. Schabert that he wished to come to the States to discuss the foreign language publication aspect of the book with us. Mr. Schabert indicated that Mr. Feltrinelli was seeking permission to enter the country and was not in any way attempting to obtain a grant of funds to do so, or to obtain a trip on a quasi official basis.

We understand that Mr. Feltrinelli attempted to come to this country in June of this year to attend the Convention of the American Book Sellers at Atlantic City, but that he was unable to obtain a visa. We do not have any definite knowledge that he was denied a visa on political grounds though it is generally understood at that time that Mr. Feltrinelli was one of the leading publishers in Italy of communist books. He is an extremely wealthy person, we understand, and consequently would not need financial assistance.

If it would speed up the processes for our acquiring the rights we seek by having Mr. Feltrinelli come here, we think it would be desirable, provided of course that no serious problems would be presented by such a visit. It would be understood, also, that he would come at his own expense and would not have any official status whatever. Obviously it will be important to us to get out as many foreign language editions of the book as possble to capitalize on the propaganda gains we are making at Soviet expense on Doctor Zhivago. (Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago) H.T.C. [Harry Tyson Carter] 1958, 1958-1958. National archives Identifier: 6789835; HMS Entry Number: P 277).

The letters between Feltrinelli, Schabert and Kurt Wolff mentioning the matter are still preserved at the Feltrinelli archives in Milan. On April 9, 1958, Feltrinelli wrote to Wolff:

“I would very much like to come to the States for the international book exhibition in Atlantic City, but I fear that I may have difficulties in getting a visa. Do you know anybody who might advice me and eventually push my enquiry through in Washington?” [Feltrinelli archives]

Wolff replied to Feltrinelli on April 16:

“My colleague Kyrill Schabert (you may recall meeting him at the Publishers’ meeting in Florence in 1956) is trying to do something about this matter in Washington. I will keep you informed about the outcome.” [Feltrinelli archives]

Feltrinelli was not given a visa and his visit to the USA had to be canceled. However, a new opportunity arose in October 1958 when, just a few days before the award of teh Nobel Prize to Pasternak, the United States Information Agency (USIA) made contact with Kyrill Schabert concerning the problem of acquiring translation rights for a variety of Asian and other languages.

October 17, 1958

Dear Mr. Feltrinelli,

As you will see by the enclosed copy of a letter, the United States Information Agency is anxious to make the text of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO available,in full length or condensed version, in the languages they list.

These are all languages of countries where a translation of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO would be most unlikely, except through the USIA subsidy program. Because they will have to make their formal contracts with an American publisher, would you be willing to cede us the translation rights for the languages specified in their letter so that we in turn can grant them permission?

I would suggest that any monies paid to us by the Government under this arrangement be credited to Pasternak’s royalty account without any deduction.

I hope that you can give this your favorable consideration. Please let me know your decision as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,

Kyrill Schabert. [Feltrinelli archives]

The document from the Agency was unsigned and dated October 14, 1959.

Dear Mr. Schabert:

This letter will confirm our telephone conversation of October 9, 1958, at which time I discussed with you the translation rights for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO by Boris Pasternak.

            I shall appreciate your requesting from Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan, Italy, exclusive translation and publication, volume and serialization rights for full length and condenced versions in the languages below.

Arabic, Assamose, Bengali, Bicol, Burmese, Cambodian, Cebriano, Farsi, Chinese, Greek, Gijarati, Hillgaynon, Hindi, Ilocano, Indonesian, Kachin, Kannada, Korean, Laotian, Macedonian, Malay, Malayalan, Marathi, Oryin, Punjahi, Serbo Croatian, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Slovenian, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese.

I realize that this book has appeared in a number of languages, and Feltrinelli might be negotiating directly for others. It may therefore be necessary for him to withold some of the above languages. Since arrangements for publication are made by our representatives abroad in collaboration with local publishers, the final determinations as to the languages and format in which DOCTOR ZHIVAGO will appear will be made by them.

            For the languages which you are able to obtain and release to the Agency, the following rates, which have been established as acceptable fees for non-commercial languages by American and British firms, will be paid on the basis of total copies published per language:

Book rights                             Full length versions                            Condensed versions

Up to 5,000 copies                  $50                                                      $25

5,001 to 10,000 copies            100                                                      50

10,001 to 15,000 copies          150                                                      75

More than 15,000 copies        200                                                      100

[Feltrinelli archives]

On October 31, 1958, Wolff had been very explicit that the request came from the State Department:

“The State Department’s request for exotic languages like Bengali, Sinhalese, etc. I understood that you agreed in principle to the request Mr. Schabert wrote you about and that a letter concerning this matter is on its way, stating you feel some details should be discussed verbally. We, therefore, will now take the necessary steps to make this verbal discussion possible over here. My friend Schabert tells me that he has already, over the last month, pointed out to the State Department official in question how desirable it would be to have you present here in person.” [Feltrinelli archives]

A carbon copy of the letter from Feltrinelli to Schabert to this effect, dated October 28, 1958, in on file in the Feltrinelli archives in Milan:

“Dear Mr. Schabert,

            I have received your letter of October the 17th concerning the U.S.A. request for the translation right of Dr. Zhivago. I do not think there is any objection in principle to the grant of the desired license (apart from the exclusion of some countries with which we are alraedy handling the granting of such license).

            Non the less there are quite a number of points in such an agreement which should be discussed and cleared.

            As I am looking forward to visiting the States in genuary or february with Prof. Del Bo on a contact tour with American universities (Harvard, Wisconsin etc.), I think this could be an excellent occasion to discuss and settle this matter.

My best regards,

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli” [Feltrinelli archives]

In other words, Feltrinelli saw the opportunity to use the interest on the part of the United States Information Agency to obtain the visa he had been denied in the Spring of 1958. At this stage, he

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Inge Schöntal

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Inge Schöntal

was still planning to visit the U.S. with Giuseppe del Bo, a long time collaborator in the Biblioteca Feltrinelli, for a tour of American Universities. The plan will radically change, as Feltrinelli will visit the U.S. in the 1959 with Inge Schöntal, whom he will marry in Mexico just before reaching the U.S.

On November 5, 1958, Schabert wrote to Feltrinelli:

“Dear Mr. Feltrinelli: I was glad to hear from you that, in principle, you are agreeable to let us have the rights for the languages mentioned in my letter to you. As Mr. Wolff may have told you, I have impressed upon my friend in Washington the importance of your coming here and I have been assured that this matter is having their top attention. In fact, I expect to have good news in a few days. Should this come through, I hope you will see your way free to arrive here before the months indicated in your letter. In any event, I should tell you to undertake no steps for the time being in connection with a visitor’s visa until you hear from me.

Withe kindest regards, sincerely yours, Kyrill Schabert.” [Feltrinelli archives]

Let us now see how the above documents complement those found in the CIA newly posted documents.

The first document relating to the matter is a memo that mentions in the subject “the U.S. publisher of Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago” (namely Pantheon Press and his president Kyrill Schabert). I will indicate by [xxx] redacted parts of the document. We are interested in the third and fourth points of the document.

  1. In May 1958×1958, [xxx] suggested to [xxx]x[xxx] spelling?) of [xxx] to let Feltinelli [sic] come to the U.S. in connection with a book convention. Feltinelli holds the copy right to Dr. Zhivajo. [xxx] felt that Feltinelli’s presence could have been exploited for the benefit of the U.S. Government. [xxx], however, advised [xxx] that there was “too much red-tape involved” and thus the project failed.
  2. [xxx] is of the opinion that even now it would be most [unreadable] for the U.S. to let Feltinelli come here.

A memorandum for the record, dated November 18, 1958, brought up worries about Feltrinelli’s decision concerning how to cede rights. The points below refer to a telephone conversation with [xxx]:

  1. While [xxx] was originally set up in the broad context of [xxx] publications in general, the Dr. Zhivago book has become an important feature. [xxx]

            [xxx] saw Feltrinelli in Milan some time in late October. The purpose of seeing him was to inquire about obtaining rights for the book [xxx]. Feltrinelli took the position that he would not give right to a publisher’s agent, but he informed [xxx] that if he should receive requests from specific [xxx] publishers, he would probably go along.

  1. Feltrinelli, [xxx], may decide to give rights in one of two ways, and it is at this point that there arises a possibility of duplication. He may, for example, decide to grant exclusive rights to the first publisher in a given language who might write to him, or he may on the other hand grant rights wholesale to all comers. He remarked to [xxx] that as of the date of [xxx] visit he had already received five requests for rights [xxx]. We have no other information as to how Feltrinelli may or may not have responded to these requests.

A personal letter to the CIA director, Allen W. Dulles, provides further information. It is dated December 15, 1958:

Allen W. Dulles

Allen W. Dulles

Dear Allen:

This is the letter I spoke to you about on Saturday. The writer of the letter, [xxx],


It does seem to me that if Feltrinelli had indeed broken away from his Communist associations, a useful service might be performed in bringing him to this country.

Certainly no development in Russia in recent months has been half so damaging to the Soviet position in world opinion as was Feltrinelli’s action in publishing the Pasternak book. It was good to talk to you.

            With warm regards, [xxx]

The enclosure in question, written around December 8, 1958, read as follows:

Dear [xxx],

I wonder where this will reach you – [xxx]


            I have a rather urgent and very important question to put up to you: a good friend of mine, the publisher of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli whose name you have seen in the papers on account of all the publicity given to Pasternak when he got the Nobel Prize, has rather weighty affairs to see to in the US. Unfortunately, on account of his former communist affiliations he finds it impossible to obtain a visa through the ordinary channels. Now, Feltrinelli broke off his ties after the Hungarian revolution, and, as you know, it has been tried to make him a tool [[a comment on the side says: Allen, I am not sure I grasp this particular point]] of certain cold war activities, using Pasternak’s book, which, again, has been against his will and intention.

            You could ask [xxx] about the family (a great name in Italian industry).

            Do you see any ways and means how Feltrinelli could be assisted – via [xxx] or any other of your official connections? [xxx]


I wish to add, unnecessarily I am sure, to keep this matter as confidential as possible.




On December 22, Allen Dalles replied:

Dear [xxx]

I appreciate your recent telephone call and your letter of 15 December with its enclosure, of which I have taken a copy. We know a great deal about the subject matter of this letter and I will see whether something can be done.



On December 29, we find the following letter to Allen Dulles

Dear Allen:

Than you so much for your note on behalf of our Italian “friend”. I have since been informed that the gentleman has not even made a request for a visa. How strange these people are.

With warm regards,


Of course, Feltrinelli had been told by Schabert not to apply for a visa.

A further memorandum dated January 2, 1959 with subject “Giangiacomo Feltrinelli; Application for Visa to the U.S.” read:


  1. Mr. Feltrinelli wants to visit the U.S. ostensibly in connection with the plans of the University of Michigan Press to publish a Russian-language edition of Dr. Zhivago, possibly also for talks with Pantheon Books, publishers of the American edition ­­–- though the latter would seem less important, since Pantheon, to the best of our knowledge, has properly contracted with Mr. Feltrinelli about copyright. [xxx]


  1. The bona fides of Mr. Feltrinelli’s departure from the Italian CP is subject to doubt: even if he left the party in good faith, it is conceivable that he might have been brought under the control of either the Italian CP or the Soviet IS at some later date, especially after the publication of Dr. Zhivago and the award of the Nobel Prize to Boris Pasternak made Mr. Feltrinelli such a tempting target. Even if this were not the case, it would seem rather likely that there is some Communist informant, if not a controlled agent, among his office staff or among his close friends.

But despite the reservations expressed in the last memo, the visa was granted. The report on Feltrinelli’s interview written by the American general consul in Milan, Charles Rogers, has been published in Carlo Feltrinelli’s biography of his father, th-5Senior Service (1999, pp. 170-171) and will not be reported here.

I will conclude by recalling that Feltrinelli visited the U.S. but the plan to co-opt him for foreign rights for Doctor Zhivago came to nothing. I refer to Senior Service also for details of Feltrinelli’s trip to the United States.

The last CIA document we have in this connection is dated April 2, 1959, while Feltrinelli was still in the United States:

Memorandum for the record

Subject: Conference with [xxx]

  1. On 1 April I visited [xxx]


in his office to discuss Publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli of Milan, Dr. Zhivago and other matters in the book field. We talked briefly on the same matters today, also in his office.

  1. Feltrinelli.
  2. [xxx]

received from me a sterilized list of countries and languages in which Pasternak’s novel had been published (taken from Memorandum for the Record, 23 March 1959, subject, “Editions of Dr. Zhivago”[this is one of the documents posted on line, PM]). I asked if there was some way to prod Feltrinelli himself on the subject of publishing editions in English [xxx]

  1. [xxx] remarked the lack of [xxx]

publishers on the list, and said he knew of [xxx]

now in New York studying the American publishing business. All had written to Feltrinelli months ago asking for publication rights in their respective languages but had received no answer. Their names, and the languages for which they sought rights, follow:


  1. I thereupon asked if someone could induce Feltrinelli to deal directly with [xxx] publishers on the rights question. [xxx] mentioned that he had been invited to a reception for Feltrinelli by Pantheon Books, Ind., Pasternak’s American publishers, later in the afternoon of 1 April but was unable to go. Using this as an excuse for getting in touch with Kyrill Schabert, President of Pantheon, [xxx] telephoned to Schabert in New York. Gist of their conversation was: [xxx] asked Schabert to urge Feltrinelli to answer his mail, particularly from [xxx] publishers, because a lack of interest by Feltrinelli in [xxx] requests for rights would only encourage the theft of rights by irresponsible publishers there. Schabert promised to do what he could and would report back. When I checked with [xxx] today he said he had not heard back from Schabert, but added he would phone again. He also said he would ask Schabert if he considered a direct visit to Feltrinelli by the [xxx] in New York would produce results. [xxx] hinted doubts about this approach, principally because Feltrinelli has told Schabert that his office had been handling requests for publishing rights, long before he left Italy. Even if he met [xxx] personally, Feltrinelli probably would not be able to remember the correspondence, and might not even be interested in pursuing the subject. Feltrinelli, [xxx] said he had been told, had an attitude of superiority of business details, especially as it concerned Dr. Zhivago, being more interested in “idealism”. Upon my urging, however, [xxx] agreed to do everything possible along this line.
  2. [xxx] confirmed that British Commonwealth rights in the English language, [xxx] have been conferred upon William Collins. Thus, anyone who wishes to publish Dr. Zhivago in English [xxx] must deal with Collins, whereas deals for other languages [xxx] may be made directly with Feltrinelli’s office in Milan.
  3. In the 1 April phone conversation Schabert reported he could not tell whether Feltrinelli was personally grateful to Schabert for having helped smooth the way for the American visa, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. From [xxx] account, Schabert and other in contact with Feltrinelli in New York have found it difficult to get specific with him.

And with this, I conclude this post about Feltrinelli’s visa, a representative case study of how the CIA sources and the non CIA sources must be used in tandem.

“The Writer and the Valet”: On the recent exchange in the LRB between F. Stonor Saunders and H. Hardy

The September 25 issue of The London Review of Books (volume 36, No 18) has a long and interesting article by Frances Stonor Saunders – author of a book on the cultural policies of the CIA during the Cold War, mentioned in my previous post – on Isaiah Berlin’s role in the Zhivago saga.

Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin

Henry Hardy, editor of many of Berlin’s books and essays and of a large selection of his correspondence, has criticized the article for a number of inaccuracies and for not indicating the sources of many citations. In her reply Stonor Saunders counters some of the charges and accuses Hardy of being confused about scholarly standards. For the original article and the exchange (volume 36, No 21, 6 November 2014) click here. The exchange raises a number of important issues and for a while I intended to contribute a letter to the LRB myself. But the letter grew in length and I realized there was no chance it could be published without drastic cuts. As a result, I did not submit it to the Editors, and I post it here instead.


Dear Editors,

I read with interest Frances Stonor Saunders’ article (25 September, LRB) and the subsequent exchange with Henry Hardy (6 November, LRB) . This exchange raises factual issues that are related to topics treated in my book (which was mentioned in both the original article and in the following discussion) and that can, at least in part, be addressed with the help of the documents at our disposal. Hence, I would like to contribute the following.

Given the dialectic of the debate between Stonor Saunders and Hardy, it is almost inevitable that my comments are focused on Stonor Saunders’ claims. Hardy reproaches Stonor Saunders for inaccuracy but I should like to emphasize, to begin with, two major theses that emerge from her contributions. The first is a generalized criticism of those who have discussed Berlin’s role in the Zhivago story: “In all of these thousands of pages devoted to the Zhivago affair, Berlin’s testimony is reprised without question.” The second emerges more clearly from her reply to Hardy, where, with respect to all the events surrounding the Zhivago affair, she refers to the “impossibility of drawing any safe conclusions as to what exactly happened”.

Stonor Saunders pictures Berlin as meddlesome and secretive, and motivated by the sheer desire “to be at the centre of an intrigue.” I will not pass judgment on Berlin’s motivations, but I do welcome a fresh look at the historical record. However, I should like to point out that the credibility of a renewed look at the evidence depends on the strength of the evidence provided. If the alleged ‘evidence’ rests on a misinterpretation of the documents, this will take the wind out of the sails of the revisionist reading. And this is what happens with one of the central considerations offered by Stonor Saunders for her claim about Berlin’s role in the affair. I am referring to the (alleged) evidence she cites from a reply by Martin Malia, dated 26 November 1956, to a now lost letter by Berlin. The lost letter to Berlin was itself a reply to a letter from Malia, dated April 1956, in which Malia informed Berlin that Pasternak was considering sending out a copy of Doctor Zhivago with some unnamed French students (they were Martinez, Aucouturier and Allain: see Tolstoy 2009 and Malia and Engerman 2005).

Martin Edward Malia (1924-2004)

Martin Edward Malia (1924-2004)

According to Stonor Saunders: “Berlin’s reply is not in the file, but a later letter from Malia contains its echo: Berlin wanted more exact details, in particular to know how he might make contact with the French students.” However, when one reads the letter from Malia it becomes obvious that what Berlin is inquiring about is not the French students (and their contacts in the French Embassy) but rather how to make contact with Soviet students. Malia writes: “Also my way of making contact with students would not have been of any help to you since it was largely through several normaliens at the University of Moscow, who had left by the time you wrote. The other contacts were all chance contacts for which there is no formula” (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Berlin 149, fols 166-7). This reply would make no sense if Berlin had enquired about the French students. It is obvious that Berlin was interested in making contact with Soviet students, rather than with the French students, and that is quite a legitimate wish given that he was planning to obtain first-hand reports from his visit on life in the USSR.

A different issue concerns the dating of the preparation of documents by Ivan Serov, head of the KGB, and by Shepilov. Hardy points out that the documents are dated August 24 and August 31, respectively, and thus after Pasternak’s conversation with Berlin, which took place on August 18. In her rejoinder, Stonor Saunders shifts the attention from the date of the documents to when they were prepared. She claims that the documents were weeks in preparation and she confidently asserts that the KGB informer “was most likely” a colleague of Sergio d’Angelo’s at Radio Moscow (his name was Vladlen Vladimirsky). In my book I said that it would be “ill advised” to venture conjectures as to who the informer was (and I explain why). For instance, Sergio d’Angelo’s conjecture is that it was the two Italian PCI officials, Robotti and Secchia, who informed the KGB. In short, we do not have precise knowledge of exactly when or by whom the KGB was informed. However, if the matter was thought by Serov to be so serious as to inform the Central Committee of the CPSU, it is hard to believe that he sat for weeks on this information. As for Shepilov’s memo (dated August 31, 1956), this was obviously written after the KGB memo, and a one-page memo does not take weeks to write (the accompanying enclosure by Polikarpov obviously derives from the review that had just been completed by the editorial board of Novy mir, and thus its being enclosed with Shepilov’s memo is neither here nor there as evidence for when the KGB was informed). I know very well the books And the Clamour of the Chase behind Me: Boris Pasternak and the Authorities, Documents of 1956–1972 (2001) and Ivan Tolstoy’s book Pasternak’s Laundered Novel: “Doctor Zhivago” between the KGB and the CIA (2009), to which Stonor Saunders directs Hardy. Regrettably, neither of the two books has anything decisive to say about the issue under discussion. Tolstoy’s allegation that it was Vladimirsky (whom he calls Vladimirov) who informed the KGB is not corroborated by any evidence. Moreover, had Vladimirsky been the informer, it would be surprising if it had taken the KGB from May 20 (the day of the visit of d’Angelo and Vladimirsky to Pasternak)  to August 24 (i.e. more than 3 months!) to report on it officially to the Central Committee of the CPSU. Perhaps the KGB was not a model of efficiency, but it was certainly more efficient than that. Thus, if one cannot categorically exclude that the KGB was ‘”noting” events before the conversation between Pasternak and Berlin, we also have no positive evidence that warrants Stonor Saunders’ assertion that this was in fact the case.

The case of the Ripellino quote is similar. Stonor Saunders unqualifiedly cites as Pasternak’s own words the following phrase: “to suffer as all true Russian poets have always suffered” (indeed, citing it out of context). Hardy objects that one cannot take these words, found in a letter from Ripellino to Calvino, as necessarily Pasternak’s own. Stonor Saunders retorts that Hardy is applying double standards: why is it fine to attribute to Pasternak a phrase when Berlin cites it and not when Ripellino cites it? (“If we can’t assume they were his own words, as reported by Ripellino, then how can we assume they were his own words when reported by anyone else – Isaiah Berlin, say?”) It seems to me that there is a difference in this case. In his “Meetings with Russian Writers in 1945 and 1946” and related articles Berlin is admittedly reporting conversations with Pasternak and thus, unless there are good grounds to question the faithfulness of what Berlin is reporting, we can safely attribute the reported words, or something like them, to Pasternak. But the context of the Ripellino letter is much more treacherous. First of all, the version of the letter we all worked with is the one I translated from Mangoni’s book Pensare i Libri (Einaudi 1999). Mangoni does not give the full passage and thus the citation in her book (and accordingly in my translation) is truncated after the words “to suffer as all true Russian poets have always suffered”.

Angelo Maria Ripellino (1923-1978)

Angelo Maria Ripellino (1923-1978)

Under the circumstances I would consider it imprudent to go on and attribute those words to Pasternak. For instance, how could we exclude the possibility that Ripellino might have gone on to say: “These words by Tyutchev capture Pasternak’s mood”?

As a consequence of the exchange between Hardy and Stonor Saunders I thought that having the full passage might help. Through a kind colleague in Italy, Chiara Benetollo, I was able to obtain the full context:

“E ora ai problemi editoriali. La storia del romanzo di Pasternak non è, come sai, di oggi. Pasternak cedette il testo a un certo D’Angelo prima degli avvenimenti ungheresi. Pareva allora che dovesse uscire anche in Russia. È ormai molto tempo che Feltrinelli giuoca con questo manoscritto. I polacchi lo avevano avuto direttamente da Pasternak, ma, nonostante la loro posizione polemica verso i Russi, avevano preferito non pubblicarlo, per non danneggiare l’autore. Ora le cose stanno così: la famiglia di P teme gravi conseguenze e preferirebbe che non uscisse, il poeta vacilla tra le preoccupazioni del dopo e il piacere di “soffrire come tutti i veri poeti russi hanno sempre sofferto”. I giovani che cercano nuove strade e lottano contro il conformismo temono ora per Pasternak e per la loro stessa battaglia. Si dirà: avete scelto a vostra insegna Pasternak, e Pasternak fa uscire in Occidente, proprio in coincidenza del 40° di ottobre, un romanzo “calunniatore”. Del resto, che cosa possiamo fare? L’editore s’è intestardito di farlo, dopo tutti i consigli, gli interventi, i telegrammi sovietici. Pasternak s’è pentito di non aver dato a me il ms, ma nello stesso tempo pensa che potrebbe derivargliene un’aureola di vittima. Insomma, per riassumere, è nella posizione di chi vuole e non vuole, incerto fra la gloria letteraria e le conseguenze politiche. Noi dovremmo, mi sembra, in questa occasione, rilanciare un po’ fragorosamente (non per me, intendimi, ma per la casa) il mio libro, insistendo magari sul fatto che il meglio di lui è pur sempre nella poesia”. (Cited in Benetollo 2014, pp. 79-80; original at Archivio di Stato, Torino, Fondo Einaudi, Incartamento Ripellino)

Unfortunately, the passage following “to suffer as all true Russian poets have always suffered” sheds no further light on the origin of the citation. What’s the outcome of all of this? It could be that the passage refers to something Pasternak said to Ripellino in Peredelkino (Ripellino had visited him in September 1957) but it could also be a citation from someone else. To repeat, the difference between this letter by Ripellino and the ordinary reports (such as those of Berlin) is that the ordinary reports are explicit about being a rendition of a conversation that took place. Here Ripellino does not say that. Thus, Stonor Saunders would be right in claiming that we cannot exclude the possibility that this is a quote from Pasternak, but she does not have sufficient grounds to make a firm attribution.

In her rejoinder, Stonor Saunders now grants that it was not a requirement for the Nobel Prize that the novel be available in the original Russian. I am glad she accepts this conclusion, which is the result of serious historical work in the Swedish archives by, among others, Fleishman, Jangfeldt and Tolstoy. I my book I point out that none of the actors involved in the Zhivago story ever claimed that one should speed up publication of the Russian text on account of some such requirement by the Nobel Prize Committee. The recently declassified CIA documents, as pointed out by Hardy, confirm this conclusion. Both my book and the book by Finn and Couvée explicitly report on the current state of historical scholarship on this issue. I thus wonder why (given that her article is, in some way, a review of these two new books), Stonor Saunders rehearses the old story about the (alleged) requirement by the Nobel Prize Committee without warning the readers that the most up-to-date historical research has debunked it. Just saying, as she does in her reply to Hardy, that up to Pasternak’s Nobel Prize the issue had never come up (“there was no exception to the formula”) is irrelevant to establishing whether people’s actions at the time were motivated by that assumption.

There is much of interest in Stonor Saunders’ original article and in the debate with Henry Hardy. Indeed, much more could be said about the issues they discuss, but I don’t want to tax the reader’s patience and I shall now conclude. It is true that much remains obscure in the Zhivago story but I think it wrong to jump, as Stonor Saunder does, to a conclusion about “the impossibility of drawing any safe conclusions as to what exactly happened”. What is required is careful scholarship and the rigorous elimination of old and new myths, even in matters of small detail. Here is an example. In her review Stonor Saunders says: “One is that the ‘first’ smuggled typescript – 433 closely typed pages held together by twine and wrapped in newspaper – was in the hands of Feltrinelli in Italy.” 433 pages? Where does that come from? Well, it comes from the new book by Finn and Couvée: “The manuscript was 433 closely typed pages divided into five parts.” And where does that come from? In their book Finn and Couvée thank Carlo Feltrinelli for having shown them the original typescript in Milan. Although I can’t be sure, here is a plausible hypothesis as to what happened. Finn and Couvée quickly looked at the last page and saw it was numbered 433. But that is only the last page of the fourth and fifth book (the fourth book starts at page 1). To that one must add 65 pages for part III, 109 pages for part II, and 177 for part I, all independently numbered. Total: 784 pages plus some unnumbered pages. This is only a small example of how false information starts going around. Of course, I do not object to the justified use Stonor Saunders made of this, as it turns out mistaken, piece of information. Rather, the general point is that a lowering of the standards of rigor immediately reverberates across the body of scholarship. And yet, this does not make me pessimistic about getting closer to “what exactly happened” and the reason why I oppose Stonor Saunders’ conclusion is that with proper care and scholarly work we can make progress in our understanding of the facts. The archival work of the last twenty years is the best proof of this.



Benetollo, C., Un’ipotesi di letteratura. La casa editrice Einaudi e la letteratura russa sovietica dal dopoguerra agli anni Settanta, Tesi di laurea, Università di Pisa, Dipartimento di Filologia Letteratura e Linguistica, 2014.

Malia, M. E., and Engerman, D., Martin Edward Malia. Historian of Russian and European Intellectual History. An interview conducted by David Engerman in 2003. Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 241 pages. 2005. Available on line here.