After 50 Years, Passions Persist Over the Publication of 'Doctor Zhivago'

Sergio D'Angelo visited Moscow this month for the Russian release of his
Sergio D'Angelo visited Moscow this month for the Russian release of his "Doctor Zhivago" memoir. (Courtesy Of Edward Lozansky - Courtesy Of Edward Lozansky)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 28, 2007

MOSCOW -- When Sergio D'Angelo arrived in Moscow this month to promote his new book -- "The Pasternak Case: Memoirs of a Witness" -- the sprightly 85-year-old Italian was immediately greeted with his first bad review.

"This is a disgraceful farce which follows the tragedy of the poet who has given away to everybody the wealth of his soul," thundered Yevgeny Pasternak, the 84-year-old son of Boris Pasternak, author of "Doctor Zhivago."

Pasternak's broadside was not published in any book review, however. To the consternation of a blindsided D'Angelo, it appeared as a dense 20-page epilogue inside the covers of the Russian edition of his memoir.

The book details D'Angelo's role in spiriting the manuscript of "Doctor Zhivago" out of the Soviet Union, where its publication was suppressed, to the West, where it became a Nobel Prize-winning literary classic. The new book also recounts D'Angelo's machinations with Boris Pasternak and the Russian's lover, as well as his part in convoluted and ultimately corrosive battles over royalties.

"This is an absurdity," D'Angelo, whose book received pleasant reviews in Italy, said in an interview here. "It's the first case worldwide where a publisher allows such a thing, the destruction of the book he is publishing. I consider Pasternak's notes something that soils my book."

Fifty years after the first publication of "Doctor Zhivago" in Italy, an event that led to the savage persecution of Boris Pasternak by the Soviet Union, feelings remain raw about one of the most charged episodes in publishing history. The story of the publication of "Doctor Zhivago" in the West remains an exotic Cold War conspiracy tale alive with mysteries and overshadowed by the toll it took on Pasternak himself.

"Sergio's point of view raised certain questions," said Yevgeny Skulovsky, deputy editor in chief of New Literature Review, which published D'Angelo's book in Russia. "We decided it was not only possible but necessary to publish the commentary. The reader might then have the possibility of getting closer to the objective truth."

Pasternak's son heaps scorn on some of D'Angelo's warm recollections. But much of the animosity between the battling octogenarians stems from an old sore: Who benefited financially from Pasternak's masterpiece?

D'Angelo won an out-of-court settlement with the book's Italian publisher after claiming that Boris Pasternak had wanted him to have half the royalties. Yevgeny Pasternak believed his father intended D'Angelo to receive some money, but nothing like the amount he eventually secured.

"I am tired of all these sensations, this vulgarity," Yevgeny Pasternak said in a brief conversation this month.

"The money is already distributed, long ago, but still feelings are hard," said Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow and the impresario of a face-to-face literary bout between D'Angelo and Pasternak at the book's launch here this month.

"For me, it's all very exciting," Lozansky said as the two men prepared to square off before an audience of writers, professors and students at the State Literature Museum.

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