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.

Doctor Zhivago in Poland (part III)

Zhivago in Poland (Part III)

We have seen in a previous post that the attempt to publish Zhivago in Poland in 1957 was successfully blocked by the Soviet authorities. One will have to wait until 1983 for a publication of the book inside Poland. But the 1983 publication is the outcome of a Polish edition that came out in Paris in 1959. Let us see in more detail how all these publications came about.

We have some details about how the 1959 edition came about through a letter written by Sergio d’Angelo to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli dated November 3, 1958:

 “I take advantage of the opportunity to convey a question that has been raised with a certain urgency. Mr. Gustav Herling, Polish by birth and writer, the husband of a daughter of Benedetto Croce, came to see me today to enquire whether you would be willing to grant to the publisher “Kultura”, located in Paris, the rights for the publication in the Polish language of Doctor Zhivago.

            The publishing house “Kultura”, according to what Mr Herling told me, was founded in 1948 by a group of leftist (mostly Socialist) Polish émigrés and survives without external support. The publishing house maintains very intense contacts with Polish culture. They publish a journal (with the same name) that circulates rather freely in Poland where it is the target of constant mention and criticism on the part of the official press.

            Having learned that the idea of publishing Doctor Zhivago in Poland has been decidedly abandoned as a consequence of the attitude taken by the Soviet authorities on the Pasternak case, the publishing house “Kultura” deems it appropriate to take charge of the project by publishing two or three thousand copies of the novel that would be distributed to Poles leaving abroad and to those that live in Poland but have occasion to travel to Paris.

Gustaw Herling (1919-2000)

Gustaw Herling (1919-2000)

            According to Mr. Herling, it would be easy to send to Poland one thousand copies, where the Pasternak case has made, as is well known, an enormous impression. (He also told me that poems and pictures of Pasternak have invaded the display windows of the Warsaw bookstores on the day following the announcement of the Prize)

            Of course I told Mr. Herling that I could only convey his proposal and considerations to you. And since I have been asked to ask you for a reply I brought up the issue now as I don’t know when you will be back in Milan.

            In case you will favorably receive Mr. Herling’s request, he would also ask you for the most favorable financial conditions, for the publisher “Kultura” seeks no financial gain from this project since they plan to distribute the majority of copies free of charge.

            Should you want to get in touch with Mr. Herling, let me inform you that he lives in Naples, via Crispi 69.” (Original letter in Italian in Archivio Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan)

Gustaw Herling (1919-2000) had already gained international visibility as the author of A world Apart: The Journal of a Gulag Survivor (1951) which had been published with a preface by Bertrand Russell. He was married to Lidia Croce.

Doktor Żiwago 1959

Doktor Żiwago 1959

Feltrinelli gave the permission and the Polish Zhivago was published in 1959 in Paris under the aegis of the Instytut Literacki (volume 44 of the publisher “Kultura”) and printed by Édition et Librairie “Libella” in 2500 copies. The translator was Paweł Hostowiec (aka Jerzy Stempowski).

The edition carries the Feltrinelli copyright and the accompanying editorial remark says: “We thank all those who helped publish ‘Doctor Zhivago’ in Polish, in particular Mr. Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the Milan-based publisher who transferred to us without charge the copyright for the Polish edition, the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Paris that paid for the translation, Mr. Charles E. Merrill, Jr. of Boston (USA) for financial assistance, and all those who bought the subscription, in total 2500 copies, of the book” (original in Polish).

As it became clear much later, the Congress for Cultural Freedom was funded by the CIA (see Stonor Saunders 2000) and thus there is something amusing in this joint partnership of Feltrinelli with a CIA funded organization.

Title page of the Polish 1959 edition

Title page of the Polish 1959 edition

As it is clear from the conversation that Herling had with d’Angelo, part of the plan was to bring Zhivago back to Poland using visits to Paris of residents in Poland. How successfully was the attempt? An answer to this question requires a much broader analysis of two factors. The first concerns the changing levels of censorship and customs controls between 1959 and the early 1980s and, secondly, one must consider the importing of Zhivago into Poland as only one instance of a gigantic program that went under the name of “book distribution program”. The latter program, run by George Minden, was one of the most successful CIA run operations of the Cold War. Fortunately, we now have a wonderful treatment of the matter in the book by Alfred Reisch “Hot Books in the Cold War. The CIA-funded secret western book distribution program behind the iron curtain” (Reisch 2013). Using the reports written by George Minden between 1956 (year of the inception of the program) till 1973 (the reports from 1973 until 1991, the year of the dismantlement of the program, have not been located), Reisch provides a detailed analysis of the kind of books that were sent to Eastern Europe with a country by country analysis (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).

Reisch says: “In the secret and also not so secret ideological and cultural warfare between East and West during the cold War, it is estimated that during a period of 35 years, some 10 million books were mailed and smuggled across the Iron Curtain, despite the futile attempts of the communist postal censors and customs inspectors to stem the flow” (Reisch 2013, p. 305)

Title page of the 1967 edition

Title page of the 1967 edition

In many cases the books were not blocked by the censors but did not arrive to the addressee because they were simply pilfered at the post office and resold at high prices in the black market.

In addition to the mail program, there was also the person to person distribution program, which exploited the presence of visitors from Eastern Europe to Western Europe for conferences or other events to hand out free copies of books that were then brought back to their countries. Sailors, sportsmen, students, clergymen, (and in one case even a zoo director, see Reisch, p. 236), and all other kinds of visitors were given free copies to bring back home. In 1958 “a visiting horse-jumping team [visiting Italy from Poland] with their own rail-trucks with horses took over 70 books and hid most of them in the hay” (Reisch, p. 240). The Seventh World Youth festival held in Vienna from July 26 till August 4, 1959, provided a wonderful opportunity for the person to person distribution program (it is estimated that in 10 days the total number of copies distributed to Polish delegates exceeded 5000 copies, see Reisch, pp. 241-242). The event was a communist-organized propaganda event that was exploited by the book distribution program to its advantage.

Immensely valuable are also the letters, extracts of which are given in Reisch’s book, that many of the recipients of the free books sent often providing important information about the censorship operating within their country (both in the mail distribution centers and at the boarder) and their reaction to the books they received.

One of the two covers of the 1983 edition

One of the two covers of the 1983 edition

Doctor Zhivago figures as one of the most requested books in Poland and other Eastern European Countries (“Dr. Zhivago was one of the most coveted books among East European readers” (Reisch 2013, p. 35)). Even a leading member of the Sejam (Polish parliament) asked distributors abroad for a copy of Doctor Zhivago! (see Reisch, p. 97, note 14). While copies in French and English had to be smuggled to the remaining Eastern European Countries, as of 1959 in Poland one could send the version in Polish produced in Paris.

Poles were at times stopped at customs and their copies of Zhivago were confiscated by the customs officers. There is for instance a letter from Jan Nowak to Jerzy Giedroyc dated 17 July 1961 in which Nowak informs Giedroyc (long standing chief editor of “Kultura”) that Polish visitors returning from Paris to Poland were stopped at customs and that copies of the journal Kultura and Doctor Zhivago have been confiscated. Then Nowak added that someone else who came back to Poland a few days earlier said that it was becoming more and more difficult to bring a copy inside the country. (see Platt 2001, p. 253) The letter bears witness to how the publication abroad was being smuggled into Poland and to the different levels of censorship that affected Poland in the period between the 1950s and the 1980s. I refer to Reisch’s book for more details.

Here is a reaction of a recipient from Warsaw who had successfully received by mail Doctor Zhivago:

“Your priceless publications [Doctor Zhivago and Song of Bernardette] will serve not only me but a large group of friends as well […] and will be treated as sensation! Your gift means so much to me, because I know now about your existence, about your willingness to help a lonely Polish scholar, about your understanding of our needs and desires […].” (Quoted in Reisch 2013, pp. 251-252; the original monthly report by Minden is dated May 9, 1959)

Title page of the 1983 edition

Title page of the 1983 edition

In a different letter to Nowak dated 17 February 1966 (Platt 2001, p. 281) Giedroyc says that he recently received the stenographic record of the meeting of the Moscow Writers’ Association which expelled Pasternak. He proposed preparing a radio broadcast about this. The translation of these transcripts into Polish was the main novelty of the second edition of the Polish Zhivago that was published in Paris in 1967. The title page gave the title Doktor Ziwago and added: “and a stenographic record of the general meeting of the Moscow writers from 31.X.1958 related to the case of B. Pasternak”. My 1967 copy however, despite the title page, does not contain the announced stenographic record. The colophon of my copy indicates that I have a second printing “Réimprimé en Belgique”. It is possible that the first printing done in Paris on April 28, 1967 (Imprimerie Richard) might have contained the stenographic record. If the first printing done in Paris in 1967 contains this stenographic record it should be found exactly on pages 501-542, which, to repeat, are not in the second printing. [[Added February 21, 2016: I was able to find the first printing of the 1967 edition, which does indeed have the stenographic record on pp. 501-542]]

Regardless, the stenographic record was included in the Polish edition that came out in 1983 in the midst of the new political atmosphere in Poland. The edition came out under two different formats. Both formats contain a four page introduction (Introduction to the national edition) by Andrzej Drawicz and the transcription of the stenographic record appears on pp. 501-542.

Andrzej Drawicz

Andrzej Drawicz

Apart from these differences and the covers, the translation and the page setting of this 1983 edition are like the one for the edition published by Kultura in 1967 although the format is smaller in size.


Platt, D., ed., Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, Jerzy Giedroyc, Listy 1952-1998, Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Ossolineum, Wrokław, 2001

Reisch, A., Hot Books in the Cold War. The CIA-funded secret western book distribution program behind the iron curtain, The Central European University Press, Budapest, 2013

Stonor Saunders, F., The Cultural Cold War. The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, The New Press, New York, 2000

[Added on February 13, 2016]: Of great interest in connection to the topic of this post is also an article that was recently brought to my attention by Dr. Jan Dierick, whose helpfulness is gratefully acknowledged. The reference is: Zdzislaw Kudelski “Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Jerzy Giedroyc, Listy o Pasternaku, podał do druku i oprac. Z. Kudelski, „Zeszyty Literackie”, 2011, nr 116, pp. 159-173”. The Russian translation (“Nowaja Polsza” 2011, nr 9 (133), pp. 8-18.) of this publication is available on the Novaya Pol’sha-website (click here). The article contains passages on Pasternak and Doctor Zhivago excerpted from the correspondence exchanged between Giedroyc and Herling-Grudziński between 1957 and 1959. Among the topics discussed are the Polish translation of Doctor Zhivago, Fedecki and Ripellino’s negative evaluation of Doctor Zhivago, and the contacts with the Feltrinelli publishing house through d’Angelo.

An interview with Ziemowit Fedecki (Doctor Zhivago in Poland, part II)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009) played an important role in the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Opinie (1957). In the previous post, I quoted some passages from an interview with Fedecki by Anna Żebrowska, which appeared in 2003 in the issue 46 of Przeglad (for the original Polish text see This post contains the translation into English of the interview. I am grateful to Rafal Urbaniak for his translation.

In the shadow of “Doctor Zhivago”

Friends of the red heir.

 Gałczyński and Pasternak asked me for my remarks about their work. I had to vow that I would tell what I really think. 

 Ziemowit Fedecki

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Żebrowska: They call you “the red heir”.

Fedecki: As the Polish saying goes, only a cow doesn’t change her views. I will be such a cow, because I confess I have socialist convictions. I am a son of a pre-war work inspector. In Białystok, which was then  an industrial region focusing on textile production, my father closed two factories, which produced uniforms for Japanese army. To make them cheaper, they were made from second hand material – they tore rags. To make them even cheaper, they employed children for the nights. Their lungs lasted three to four months. Then even the strongest one would die. Unemployed families would give up their kids to die in order to avoid starvation for four months. When someone has seen the unbelievable poverty and atrocities of capitalism those days…

Żebrowska: So I have an explanation of “red”. And “heir”?

Fedecki: I was only a kid, when I inherited an estate called Great Lebioda from my grandfather Józef Michniewicz. It was located at the crossing of the roads leading to Lida, Grodno and Szczuczyn. Around 450 ha was occupied by a forest which couldn’t be cut. In 1920 Prażmowski-Belina camped there with the Soviet cavalry and big heads from the HQ decided that the forest was of strategic importance and was to remain intact till the next war. I didn’t grow up to be a “real” heir, I was a few years too young. After the Russian invasion in 1939, the old building was left unattended and unrenovated, so it fell apart after a dozen years or so. It’s a real shame, it was a very beautiful historic building, renovated and shown in many architecture textbooks.  We burned wood in XVIIIth century Dutch stoves, which survived the conflagration of war. And in “my” forest we woud steal wood for my bosom friend’s house, Wałodzi Malec. It was thanks to him that I got to know the exceptional charm of Belarussian folk songs, which charmed Mickiewicz and Czeczot.

Żebrowska: Why atheism in a boy from a good family, gentry?

Fedecki: Maybe you need a gift to believe, and I don’t have it. My grandmother was raised in a convent, but my parents were leftists and “Poprostu”  [“directly” or “straight”] was published in our apartment – the first one, from Wilno. For their activity in POW [Polish Military Organization] and other merits for Polish independence, my parents received Crosses of Valor; on account of the leftist “Poprostu” my father was suspended from work. During the [German] occupation my mom waged her private war against the Gestapo, stealing children from the Wilno’s ghetto who were meant to be put to death with injections. In my bed slept a Jew with a shot in his chest and a woman already drenched in lime during the Jew massacre in Ponary.

Żebrowska: How did you get out of Wilno?

Fedecki: In 1944 Putrament and Jędrychowski flew in, and they needed people for the PKWN [Polish Committee of National Liberation]. Jędrychowski offered me a job in their radio. Meanwhile my friends from AK [Home Army] were in great danger. Wilno was taken by joint AK and Russian military effort, after which the Russians raided the Poles, sending them to a forced labor camp in Kaluga. I went to Putrament and asked if he couldn’t get at least a few AK members to Lublin. “Bring them the day after tomorrow to the airport”. With Janek Mietkowski (later, the president of Radio Three and a minister) we buried his weapon in a flowerbed, gathered the others, and went to the airport. Putrament told the Russian security detail “Eto moia grupa” [This is my group, in Russian], he put us on a Dakota and we landed in Lublin. I was even curious whether our friends wouldn’t run straight to the forest, but it wasn’t proper to ask. It turned out they were sick of both war and forest. Forests were terrible, it is enough to watch Różewicz’s “Into the ground”. They went to university, got civil jobs. Only few of them ended up in the army.

Żebrowska: My father also did that – from the NSZ [National Armed Forces] he escaped from the NKVD to the army. You, however, ended up in diplomacy.

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Fedecki: Already before the war ended I left for Moscow as a press attaché of the Polish embassy. I was there, watching from the gradinata in front of Kremlin the famous victory parade, when Russian solders would throw German flags in front of the Mausoleum. To prove myself that everything passes I kept my pass for the funeral of the all-mighty ideologist Andrei Zhdanov.

Żebrowska: Who were your friends in Moscow?

Fedecki: Mostly friends from the university, because without telling anyone I enrolled to study biology. I will never meet such amazing people. They came back from the front lines often without legs, without hands, they knew everything about Stalinism, we understood each other in half words. I left the university when they kicked out those professors who disparaged Lysenko’s theories. One of my friends was Alexander Werth, a correspondent for the “Manchester Guardian”, with whom we illegally went to the Republic of Chechnya, which was liquidated after the war. Kilometers of emptiness – empty houses, no living soul. Our guide was a journalist of “Socialist Ossetia”, who knew everyone there. On the face of it, there was no trace of Chechens, but the commandant of the old stronghold complained: “Pigs, those Chechens! They come back secretly to their settlements, especially the elderly. One knows all the paths, covers himself with leafs if he needs to, we can’t trace him. Then he reaches his village and hangs himself, right in plain sight. Later, an inspection issues complaints from the Party, forgets about us in promotions, because we weren’t good guards. How can we watch them, pigs, sons of…!”

Żebrowska: Boris Pasternak’s son, Evgenii till today tells the Poles about how you financed their family.

Fedecki: I was honored to.

Żebrowska: Was in the years of the fights with the cosmopolitans?

Fedecki: Yes, I even joked one day: “Boris Leonidovich, I thought I was done helping Jews after the occupation, but I see there’s plenty of work to be done”… Pasternak had a large family to maintain. It’s difficult to make ends meet making money on poetry, anywhere in the world. Pasternak made some money preparing translations. He even translated from Polish, even though he didn’t know the language, and didn’t understand much from Słowacki’s or Leśmian’s poetics. Jokingly he apologized that he was doing this ” for milk for the children.” When after the war the anti-semite mess began, they stopped printing his work, Shakespeare’s plays in his translation were taken off stage.

Stefan Żółkiewski (1911-1991)

Stefan Żółkiewski (1911-1991)

At that time, Stefan Żółkiewski, the editor of Kuźnica, came to Moscow, a charming man. I told him that Pasternak had no money to live. “We’ll figure out something – said Żółkiewski – I’ll prepare bills for the articles that didn’t go through the censorship.” When I went to Moscow, I took the money. I gave it to him, waited till the 1st of the month and again brought an envelope [with money], saying that another royalty had arrived. This continued for a few good months. I was making quite a lot, so I was giving him half of my salary. That’s probably why he gave me later the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago. When translations returned to the [theater] stages, Pasternak said “I don’t need royalties anymore.” Perhaps he had some idea as to where the money came from, given his dedication on a volume “To Dear Ziemowit as a proof of friendship and to remember the times, when he was the good soul for me and my family.”

Żebrowska: A few people harboured a grudge against you, because you didn’t publish the whole of Doctor Zhivago.

Fedecki: For God’s sake, it was mid-50s, there were no private publishers or secondary circulation.  In the journal Opinie [Opinions] we could only publish part of the story, which we did one year before the Nobel prize and it was the first publication in the world. The translator, Ms Maria Mongirdowa, fell ill and died. I passed it on to Seweryn Pollak, who signed a contract with PIW [Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy].

Seweryn Pollak (1907-1987)

Seweryn Pollak (1907-1987)

In the West no one cared about the piece until Pasternak got the Nobel prize. And in Poland we couldn’t publish a book considered to be anti-Soviet, whose author was expelled from the [Soviet] writers’ association. When they later called Pollak from PIW, they were even afraid to mention the title of the piece: “Mr Seweryn, we have a contract with you for this piece, you know which one. Please do not refund us the advance, and in general, we won’t talk about it.” Perhaps, Herling-Grudziński [Gustaw Herling-Grudziński], who wrote that Doctor Zhivago did not appear because of Fedecki’s pettiness, has not heard of censorship in the PRL [Polish People’s Republic], but a few people still remember it.

Żebrowska: I browsed through the first issue of the quarterly Opinie. Apart from Pasternak, there were quite a few authors at that time prohibited in the USSR: Babel, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva. How come this could appear in 1957?

Fedecki: Diplomatic manouvers. We applied for funding at TPPR [Polish-Soviet Friendship Society], which later ran into troubles because of that. What’s worse, we started cooperating with Władysław Siła-Nowicki, who just got out of a UB [Polish Secret Police] prison — he reviewed books for us. But Opinie was the only periodic of TPPR that disappeared from news stalls in two days.

Żebrowska: I can imagine the reaction in USSR.

Fedecki: Literaturnaia Gazeta published a piece “Whose opinions are these?” (Western revisionists’, they discovered). The eulogist of “a real man”, Boris Polevoi, petitioned for a “social” trial of the editorial board. They wrote about me that I’m a perfidious exhumator of pseudoliterature [Actually, this takes place in a second article published in July 24, 1958, in Sovetskaia Kul’tura, titled Trojan horse, where one finds Polevoi’s attack against Fedecki]. For a long period I was not sent to Moscow, they stopped inviting me for movies at the Russian embassy. Opinie appeared only twice, but in the second issue the censorship’s interference was so strong that with Pollak we refused to sign it.

Żebrowska: Kira Gałczyńska wrote that it was you who discovered Mazury and Pranie.

Fedecki: I lived there in the summer, at a friendly forester, Mr Popowski. From Moscow I brought only 100 dollars of savings, the rest of the money I spent for books in second-hand bookshops. For 100 dollars I purchased a SHL (it’s a great motorcycle), and with Janek Mietkowski we went to Mazury. They reminded us of Wileńszczyzna [Wilno’s surroundings], we discovered places very much like our places back in Wileńszczyzna. But for a long time now I haven’t gone to Mazury, where nowadays teams from Zakopane build highlanders’ huts for ladies from the society. I have a small house in Tuchola.

Żebrowska: Jan Gałczyński ended up in the forester’s lodge in Pranie?

Fedecki: Only by accident. I had an appointment with a lady-friend in a café. She didn’t come, it turned out that at that time she was getting married for the second or third time. I waited for her for half an hour, the evening seemed empty, so I dropped by Gałczyński’s place.

Natalia and Konstanty Gałczyński

Natalia and Konstanty Gałczyński

He wasn’t there, and Mrs Natalia [Gałczyński’s wife] complained that she’d like to take Konstanty [Gałczyński’s first name] as far away from holiday pals, she was worried about his heart after the heart attack. I proposed to organize a summer in Mazury for them, where the nearest pub is 13km across the forest. I telegraphed Popowski, he responded quickly – he agreed. Gałczyński came with Ms Natalia, Kira and Jerzy Zagórski’s grandson. We drove them with Popowski on old German motor boats through the, at the time, completely virgin Mazury, from Ruciane to Pranie. Gałczyński had his revelation, it was so beautiful. You can also see how much he wrote in Mazury. And the ways we had fun in Pranie: during dinner he was the governor, I was the special task official, and we changed roles on the following day. We wrote together an anthem for USSR  according to Saltykov-Shchedrin, but alas, I only remember the last line: “Remember, citizens, don’t think!” [in Russian]. As a talented man, Gałczyński was not even a bit jealous about other poets. He was happy when someone wrote something good.

Żebrowska: What does friendship with a great poet look like, do you have to praise him?

Fedecki: Both Gałczyński, and Pasternak, when we were in closer relationships, asked for honest remarks about their work. I had to vow that I would tell what I really thought. Gałczyński gave me his “Wit Stwosz” to read. I adore Gałczyński, but I think “Wit Stwosz” is rather average. As a result result, he didn’t talk to me for over a month. I was one of the first readers of Doctor Zhivago and it bored me to death, I used to make coffee to stay awake. I told Pasternak that this is revolution seen through a window vent of his cabin in Peredelkino. As a 23 year old pup I would never dare to review it like this, but since he made me vow? Pasternak listened, went upstairs and didn’t come downstairs for dinner. I packed my things (I was staying at his place in Peredelkino for holidays) and I started my goodbyes. He ran down the stairs: “Please stay, if you leave, then I will be really offended!”

Żebrowska: Everyone loves criticism in superlatives.

Fedecki: In this respect Iwaszkiewicz was an extraordinary person. Twice I didn’t print his poems from “Twórczość” [Creativity], where he was editor-in-chief and my boss, not to mention that he was the president of the Writers’ association. After Gagarin died, he wrote the poem “To Gagarin’s daughters.” I told him, that it’s a greater loss when a drunk motorcycle driver hits and kills Ms Kowalska standing at a bus stop. Her daughters don’t even get any compensation. For Gagarin it was an occupational risk. He only asked “Really, is it so bad? Throw it out, then.”

Żebrowska: How do you look at “Doctor Zhivago” these days?

Fedecki:The same. If a writer wants to focus on revolution, he needs to get to know it up close, like Babel. Pasternak spent his most stormy years keeping a warm job. He knew all European languages, and since all the NSZ [National Armed Forces] officials ran after the revolution, he translated diplomatic correspondence. And that’s very good, because he received barley, pork fat, his family didn’t starve.  For a novel, however, he didn’t have enough material. Apart from that, he accepted the pointless theory, that one has to write like Lev Tolstoi. “Isn’t it enough that you write like Pasternak?” I asked. Doctor Zhivago did not become a point of reference in the history of literature. Babel’s Red Cavalry is something different, or Zoshchenko’s stories – without them, our picture of Russia would be incomplete.

Żebrowska: Actually, how did you meet Pasternak?

Fedecki: We went to Peredelkino with Jerzy Pomianowski and  Zivov, a translator from Polish.  Zivov was his friend, Pomianowski was publishing an anthology of Russian poetry and had some business [in going], and I just really wanted to meet him.

Jerzy Pomianowski

Jerzy Pomianowski

Already at the beginning Pasternak said: “Stalin, this bandit…” We heard a snap – Zivov fainted. Pomianowski, who graduated from a medical school, told us to put him on a couch. Later it turned out that  Zivov fainted every time Pasternak talked about Stalin in the presence of unfamiliar people. He was afraid that the foreigners, unaware of anything would tell in Moscow what the poet was saying about the leader and that the powers that be would use him as a witness. He didn’t want to hurt Pasternak, so he fainted not to hear anything.

Żebrowska: Were the poems in which Pasternak glorified the USSR written sincerely?

Fedecki: Half-half, I think. In the USSR  their system of values was out of balance, at the border of split personality. In the poem “Visokaya bolezn” Pasternak gave a real picture of Russia bathed in blood, and three pages further he was writing a pean to honour Lenin… I love early Pasternak, but his volume “Vtoroe Rozhdenie” [Second Birth] – how he felt like newly born after the revolution – is a failure. Or take a look at this statement: ” The soul is leaving the West, She has nothing to do there “. It is funny when Rilke’s friend and constant correspondent calls the West soulless!

Żebrowska: Apart from Pasternak you promoted in Poland also the work of the Oberiuts [Absurdists], Okudzhava, and Trifonov. Did any of these publications cause a storm like Doctor Zhivago?

Fedecki: There was a hell of an argument after Okudzhava’s  “You will live”. The ZLP [Association of Polish Writers] received a series of denunciations, Iwaszkiewicz every few days would say, “Come, dear Ziemek, we have a new denunciation thingy for you”. In USSR the story appeared in the provincial “Tarusskie Stranicy”, and most of the circulation was destroyed, Okudzhava was blamed for pacifism and other sins.  And we published it boldly, in a separate issue. Thanks to the Polish edition Bulat [Okudzhava] became known internationally. I convinced a German translator to prepare a translation, he didn’t know Russian very well, I helped him. In German Okudzhava was read and translated into Swedish, French. Trifonov went to France and also through Poland.

Żebrowska: Russian fates…

Fedecki: I’ll tell you a different story from our battle with cosmopolitism. Molotov’s wife was arrested, Mikhoels was murdered, the Jewish Theater was disbanded, the leader of the Jewish Anti-Fascist movement Solomon Lozovsky was executed… And then Literaturnaia Gazeta publishes a regime critic saying that idealism is the weapon of world capitalism, and Pasternak is an idealist. You can guess the rest of the reasoning. In the evening, without any appointment, Pasternak’s friends met at his place. I went there too. Pasternak was dressed elegantly, English style. Wine was served in green glasses, no one mentioned the article. At midnight we heard knocking on the door, which might have meant arrest, everyone froze. Pasternak straightened his jacket and opened the door.  The author of the article opened the door and kneeled, weeping “Forgive me Boria!” Pasternak did not accept the apologies, he only said with disdain, “Better have some wine,” everyone returned to the previous conversation. The critic mooched around for a bit and left silently.

Żebrowska: Real Dostoevsky material.

Fedecki: The critic was an ultrasonofabitch and at the same time he adored tied words. He had a priceless collection of XXth century Russian poetry, our common friend secretly copied some unavailable poems from it for me. He collected books with authors’ signatures, he loved Pasternak, but whenever the powers that be wished so, he could publicly accuse anyone of anything. During the critic’s funeral, when the casket entered the furnace, one of the attendees said: “It smells of fried dastard”.

Żebrowska: Are you happy about reality nowadays?

Fedecki: Not so much, I was raised in the spirit of tolerance, which I think died in Poland. In our village for holidays, the guests usually were: my uncle, colonel doctor Krzywiec, fanatically anti-Soviet and well noted in Rome, strongly communistic Henryk Dembiński and atheistic youth from “Poprostu”, priests Śledziewski (specialist in Wilno’s baroque) and Marcinkowski (Polish studies), music teacher Załkind, Jew, and Jasienica’s cousins – Gienia and Zosia Tatarkówna. The meeting was patronized by my grandmother, who grew up in a convent. Such different people sat at the same table and I remember no issue, no disrespect. Back then people thought that if a person is decent, that’s enough.