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)
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.