PJ Neal

Thoughts from a more-than-occasional writer

Intelligence in Public Literature: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book [CIA Studies in Intelligence]

Nearly 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, memories of the Cold War are beginning to fade in American memory. Bomb shelters built in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis are rusting out across the United States. Russia is rusting out, too, with a GDP today smaller than that of Brazil, and just an eighth that of the United States. There is an International Space Station where there once was a space race, an increasingly unified European economy where the Berlin Wall once stood, and the Fulda Gap is now host to a museum examining the Cold War (€5 admission, closed Mondays during winter).

In The Zhivago Affair, Peter Finn, the national security editor for the Washington Post, and Petra Couvée, a writer, translator, and professor at Saint Petersburg State University in Russia, take the reader back to the height of the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were wrestling for geopolitical dominance, and the citizens of both nations faced the specter of nuclear war. While many recent Cold War histories focus on major individuals (Ike’s Bluff, Shadow Warrior) or technological feats (Project AZORIAN), Finn and Couvée go in a different direction, examining an innovative effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to use literature—specifically, Boris Pasternak’s novel, Doctor Zhivago—as a potentially destabilizing influence inside the Soviet Union.

Read my full article in the Central Intelligence Agency’s journal Studies in Intelligence.