Meeting Sergio d’Angelo

Pasternak described the story of the publication of Doctor Zhivago as “the novel about the novel”.

Sergio d'Angelo in the Soviet Union (1956)

Sergio d’Angelo in the Soviet Union (1957)

One of the protagonists of that story is Sergio d’Angelo and my book, accordingly, devotes quite a bit of attention to his role. Most importantly, d’Angelo was the person who physically received the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago from Pasternak on May 20, 1956 and handed it over to Feltrinelli a week later in West Berlin. At the time d’Angelo was employed at the Italian section of Radio Moscow and was also acting as Feltrinelli’s literary scout in the Soviet Union. In late April 1956 he happened to read a piece of news from the central office of Radio Moscow announcing the imminent publication of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. He made a note to himself in a notebook he used to keep a record of interesting publications to bring to the attention of the Feltrinelli publishing house (see picture below) .

Having informed the publishing house about this possible scoop, he received the go ahead from Milan and went to visit Pasternak on May 20, 1956. It was the beginning of “the novel about the novel”.

D'Angelo's notebook (April 1956)

D’Angelo’s notebook (April 1956)

D’Angelo’s role in the story goes well beyond this initial encounter with Pasternak. He remained very close to Pasternak and Olga during his stay in Moscow and even after he went back to Italy (in December 1957). During 1959 and 1960 he was instrumental in the scheme, approved by Pasternak, to deliver some of the Zhivago royalties to Pasternak. This was done through couriers, usually members of the Italian Communist Party visiting Moscow.

The last of these deliveries of rubles in August 1960 (hence two months after Pasternak’s death in May 1960), was ill-fated, because it gave the Soviets an excuse for prosecuting and condemning Olga and her daughter Irina to eight and three years, respectively, of hard labor camp. This led in 1961 to an international campaign in favor of the two women to which d’Angelo participated with an open letter to Surkov, Pasternak’s irreducible enemy in the Soviet Writers’ Union, and with a private letter to Khrushchev.

Finally, Sergio d’Angelo was involved in a protracted legal battle against Feltrinelli concerning Pasternak’s royalties which began in 1965 and went on for several years. Some of these aspects of d’Angelo’s role have been analyzed in my book and d’Angelo provides his first-hand account of the facts in his captivating book Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti, 2006) that can be downloaded in English from his website

Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti 2006)

Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti 2006)

I had tried to contact Sergio d’Angelo when I was writing my book but he had changed email and my attempt was unsuccessful. I was thus very happy when I got an email from him on January 18, 2014, in which he congratulated me on Inside the Zhivago Storm. This quickly led to an intense exchange of emails, for this was a splendid opportunity to clarify many things that I would have gladly asked him while I was writing the book. Quickly it was resolved that I should go and visit him in his town close to Viterbo, San Martino al Cimino. I went to visit him on February 22. In addition to being a most generous host, he had also prepared for me all the documents in his possession that related to his involvement in the Zhivago affair. There were unpublished autographed letters by Pasternak and by Olga, drafts of d’Angelo’s letters to them, the notebook where he had jotted down the news of the impending publication of Doctor Zhivago, and many other important documents. I was thrilled and even more so as Sergio allowed me to take pictures of all these materials and to use them in my further research on the Zhivago story. We spoke for eight hours. We did not always agree on the interpretation of the events, but that was part of the fun, for while Sergio is a man of strong opinions, he also respects the fact that one might take different stands in interpreting such complex events as those that made up the odyssey of Zhivago. During my visit, he also brought up his desire to donate his papers to an international institution where scholars would be able to consult them. This he has since done by donating all his materials on the Zhivago affair to the Hoover Institution Archive at Stanford.

Meeting Sergio d’Angelo was a delightful experience. Given his role in the Zhivago story, one can’t get any closer to the eye of the Zhivago storm.

The book in the Italian press

Given that the book was published by Feltrinelli, the Italian press was the first to review it. I will say more in a later post about reviews in the international press (such as the one in the New York Review of Books). Here is a list of the Italian reviews. They can be downloaded as a single file by clicking here.

Il Sole 24 Ore (October 13, 2013)

La Nuova Sardegna (November 17, 2013)

Avvenire (November 20, 2013)

Corriere della Sera (November 20, 2013)

Il Giorno/Il Resto del Carlino/La Nazione (November 21, 2103)

L’Unione Sarda (November 27, 2013)

Corriere dell Sera (December 6, 2013)

Alias (Il Manifesto) (December 15, 2013)

Il Venerdì di Repubblica (December 27, 2013)

L’Espresso (January 23, 2014)

La Nuova Sardegna (February 28, 2013)

It all started with a lucky find at Moe’s

I often get asked how I got involved in writing a book on Doctor Zhivago. It all started with a lucky finding at Moe’s, a wonderful used bookstore in Berkeley owned by Doris Moskowitz. When Doris found out about the story she asked me to write something for Moe’s blog. You can read the original post (dated December 3, 2013) by clicking here but I will also report a shortened version of the text below, as you might enjoy the story (I hope I will be forgiven the use of “serendipidy” both in my previous post and in what I wrote for Moe’s back in December; but I think the events fully justify the repetition). As you will see the lucky find was a first edition of the Russian Zhivago published by the University of Michigan Press which I bought for $20. Once I told people at Moe’s the story, they put a yellow sticker on their computers saying: “Careful when pricing first editions of the Russian Zhivago”. Below is a picture of the second edition, which has an interesting dust jacket (the first edition did not have a dust jacket).

The dust jacket of the second Michigan edition of Doktor Zhivago (1959)

The dust jacket of the second Michigan edition of Doktor Zhivago (1959)

Here is the shortened text from Moe’s blog:

I do not exaggerate when I say that Moe’s has been a key element of my Berkeley experience since the time I moved here in 1995. I cannot think of another used bookstore anywhere in the world, and I have visited many of them, that compares in quality to Moe’s. In addition to being a “trading zone” –namely a place where people with different languages, products and expectations interact and exchange goods and ideas – a constant renewal of the stock and fair prices keep bringing me back as a faithful customer. Of the many books I bought at Moe’s, the chance encounter with one of them in particular can truly be described as a case of “serendipity”. 

About three years ago I began studying Russian again, a language I had studied in the late 1980s and early 1990s but which I had not continued to practice on account of more pressing commitments. As I often do when I start a  new project, I began buying some books in the area and this is how I stumbled, in November 2011, on a copy of Doctor Zhivago in Russian for sale at Moe’s. I paid $20 for it without knowing exactly what I was buying. Once at home, I decided to check on line booksellers  just to get some information about the edition and its value on the market. I thus discovered that I had bought the first official edition of the Russian text published by the University of Michigan Press. I was stunned when I saw that some booksellers were selling it for $5000. Intrigued by the history of the book, I discovered that the first worldwide edition had come out in Italian in 1957 for the publisher Feltrinelli. It was through an agreement with Feltrinelli, who owned the copyright for Doctor Zhivago, that the University of Michigan press had published the Russian text in early 1959 (the copy I had bought!). I thus began reading more about the publication history of Doctor Zhivago and the more I read the more I wanted to know. I was puzzled by a few aspects of the publishing history and my research became more serious, eventually leading me to work in American, European, and Russian archives. 

In the course of this research, I was also given access, for the first time, to the Feltrinelli archives in Milan, which were invaluable for reconstructing what is certainly the most complex literary-political case of the twentieth century.  The publication history of Doctor Zhivago features Pasternak, Feltrinelli (one of the richest men in Italy at the time and a member of the Italian Communist Party), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, The Italian Communist Party, the KGB, the CIA, and countless other characters. All of this, and much more, is recounted in detail in my book “Inside the Zhivago Storm. The editorial adventures of Pasternak’s masterpiece” (Feltrinelli, Milan, 2013), which is the outcome of that serendipitous encounter with the Russian Zhivago at Moe’s.
I offer the above comments as an expression of gratitude for Moe’s unique and irreplaceable role in our community.

Paolo Mancosu

The first set of corrections of the Feltrinelli Russian Zhivago: a serendipitous discovery

SAM_3629 p. 263

Corrections by Vera Popova to p. 263 of Feltrinelli’s first edition of the Russian Zhivago.

As mentioned in the previous post, the presentation of my book took place in Milan on November 20, 2013. Just before the event began I was approached by a very nice lady who had brought with her a first Feltrinelli edition of the Russian Zhivago (published in May 1959). She showed it to me and I was immediately intrigued by the numerous corrections to the Russian that were penciled throughout the text. I suspected that the corrections might be important to the editorial history of the Zhivago. As there was no time to talk we agreed to meet on the following day. When I went to visit Ms. Schiaffino (that is her name) in her apartment in the center of Milan, she told me how she came to own the book. It was given as a present to her husband by Danilo Montaldi who had worked as French translator at the Feltrinelli publishing house. She did not know how Montaldi had come to own the book. I decided to take pictures of all the pages containing corrections, approximately 250 pages out of 566. Once I examined the corrections it was evident that they were not as extensive as the set of corrections that Mme de Proyart had sent to Feltrinelli in July 1959 and which I describe at length in my book. But I did notice that there were a couple of comments in French and after a few months I decided to send some of the pictures to Mme de Proyart to see whether she had any inkling of who might have been responsible for such an extended set of corrections. My original conjecture was that this was the work of a Russian reader inside the Feltrinelli publishing house and that this set of corrections was the one that convinced Feltrinelli that a second edition of the Russian text was necessary. It turns out that I was closer to the truth than I suspected. Mme de Proyart wrote me back confirming that she and Vera Popova made the pencil corrections in the copy of the book in the late Spring 1959. These corrections were at the basis of the later, more extensive, set of corrections that she handed to Feltrinelli in July 1959. I was able to also confirm the intervention of Vera Popova in several remarks in the book which read “d’après V.P.” The picture above shows a long missing piece of the text at the beginning of Chapter VIII in the handwriting of Vera Popova.

I add Mme de Proyart’s explanations concerning the two handwritings present in the text and her further comments about Vera Aleksandrovna Popova:

“Les corrections dans une écriture plutôt ronde sont les miennes avec un “d” écrit “à la grecque” et pas  comme un “g”. L’écriture plus pointue  comme au-dessus du chapitre “Priezd” p. 263, sont celle de ma vieille amie russe , une moscovite de vieille souche “marchande”, (fabricants de “feutre”)  et “mécène” Vera Alexandrovna Popova. Elle pratiquait la “vieille foi” d’une manière à la fois très stricte et pleine de gaîeté. Elle était sculptrice. Son père lui avait acheté un appartement de peintre à Paris et elle avait donc un toit quand elle a décidé de  s’exiler en 1923. Elle était allée voir Tchekhov avec ses parents à Melkhovo tandis que l’amie qu’elle avait qu’elle avait fait venir chez elle et avec laquelle elle allait partager son existence  avait terminé à la fois le conservatoire (chant) et la faculté des lettres. On ne pouvait pas faire plus proche du milieu “Jivago”. En France Vera gagna longtemps sa vie en travaillant pour Djaguilev et les ballets de Monte-Carlo. Elle avait pour amies N Gontcharova et Exter. Elle a vendu ses mémoires à l’université de Columbia. C’est avec elles que j’ai appris le russe et surtout la Russie. Je ne pouvais pas trouver personne plus compétente pour corriger le texte fautif. Cela a été épique car je venais de faire une très mauvaise chute de ski avec  ’apophyse d’une vertèbre casée et je devais faire de longues séances allongée sur le plancher et je ne pouvais pas toujours écrire les corrections . C’était alors Vera Aleksandrovna qui les écrivait” (email message to Paolo Mancosu dated February 12, 2014)

In May 2014 I visited the Bakhmeteff archives at Columbia University to consult Popova’s memoirs. Unfortunately, the story of her family stops at the 1920s and the manuscript does not contain anything related to the work she did with Mme de Proyart in correcting the text.

October 23, 2013: Inside the Zhivago Storm is out.

With this post I begin what I hope will be a chronicle of events and news related to my book Inside the Zhivago Storm. The editorial adventures of Pasternak’s masterpiece (Feltrinelli, Milano, 2013). In addition, I plan to comment on recent developments and further research I am carrying out on Pasternak and Doctor Zhivago.

The book was published in the series Annali della Fondazione Feltrinelli (Vol. XLVII). The Feltrinelli Foundation keeps a page on the book (click here) and provides a link giving access to reviews of it in the press.

Much has happened since the appearance of the book on October 23, 2013, but I will begin with events dating from that period.

On July 31, 2013, Mario del Pero and Andrea Renzi recounted, using the material contained in the forthcoming book, the story of the publication of Doctor Zhivago in an event at the Cortona Mix Festival. For information about the event and a video of the same click here.

The book was first presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair (October 9-13). The Italian presentation of the book took place on November 20, 2013 at ISPI (Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale) in the beautiful Palazzo Clerici in Milan. The event, titled “Censura e libertà ai tempi della guerra fredda. La tempesta del Dottor Zivago”, was introduced by Paolo Magri. The speakers were Carlo Feltrinelli, Paolo Mancosu, Sergio Romano and Fausto Malcovati. A video of the event can be watched by clicking here.