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

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.

In 1956, D'Angelo was a young Italian communist who came to Russia to work for the Italian service of Radio Moscow. Before he left Italy, another communist, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the fabulously wealthy founder of a new publishing house in Milan, asked him to act as a scout for Russian books.

That May, before "Doctor Zhivago" had attracted much attention, D'Angelo edited a short notice on Radio Moscow that said publication of the book was imminent. He asked a Russian friend if he could set up a meeting with Pasternak. It was arranged for a Sunday at the author's country home in the Peredelkino writers colony, just outside Moscow.

"He received us very warmly," D'Angelo recalled. "It was a sunny day, warm, and he proposed to talk in the garden. We sat on two wooden benches at right angles."

D'Angelo suggested that Pasternak give him a copy of "Doctor Zhivago" to pass on to Feltrinelli, who would then start the process of translation. D'Angelo said Feltrinelli would not publish until after the Soviet edition came out.

Pasternak insisted that the novel would never appear in the U.S.S.R. because it didn't "conform to official cultural guidelines."

"Pasternak stands up, excuses himself, and enters the house," D'Angelo wrote. "He returns a short while later with a large package in tow, which he gives directly to me. 'This is 'Doctor Zhivago,' " he says. "May it make its way around the world."

As he and D'Angelo exchanged goodbyes at the garden gate, Pasternak said: "You are now invited to attend my execution."

A week later, D'Angelo flew to East Berlin, where the Berlin Wall had not yet been built, crossed into the Western part of the city and handed the manuscript to Feltrinelli. An honored guest of the Soviet Union, D'Angelo was never searched.

Over the next 18 months, before the novel's publication in Italy on Nov. 23, 1957, the Soviets, including the KGB, put intense pressure on Pasternak to get the manuscript back. Soviet officials deemed it "a perfidious calumny against our revolution, and against our entire way of life," according to a memorandum issued by the Culture Sector of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

When the novel won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Soviets were outraged, viewing it as a calculated Western provocation. Another Russian author, Ivan Tolstoy, claimed this year that the CIA had a covert role in the Nobel award, a yet unproven plot that actually unites D'Angelo and Yevgeny Pasternak in skepticism.

The Soviet Union forced Boris Pasternak to reject the honor and then pilloried and isolated the writer, who died in 1960 at the age of 70.

Much of the debate between D'Angelo and Yevgeny Pasternak this month focused on the kind of detail that would baffle all but serious students of the book's publishing history. The two, for instance, clashed over the role of Boris Pasternak's lover, Olga Ivinskaya, in attempts to pressure Pasternak to make changes in the novel to placate the Soviets and to write to the Italian publisher asking him to return the manuscript.

"Ivinskaya never tried to influence Boris Pasternak or go against his will in relation to bringing certain changes in his novel," said D'Angelo, sitting on a podium at the front of the room.

"This is not true, not true," shouted Elena Pasternak, who sat with her husband, Yevgeny, near the front of the hall at the Literary Museum. "She was afraid."

"Let him finish," shouted an audience member.

In the 1990s, the publication of a letter Ivinskaya wrote to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev from a Soviet prison camp suggested she had collaborated with the KGB behind Pasternak's back. D'Angelo views her contacts with the authorities as the pleadings of a frightened woman and her later letter as a desperate gambit to get out of prison rather than any revelation of real duplicity. She was imprisoned for illegal currency dealings after receiving royalties smuggled into the country.

"Ivinskaya came to me in despair," D'Angelo continued. "She asked me to handle the situation somehow. Shortly before that I had returned from Italy and knew that publication of the novel was at such a stage that there was no way back."

D'Angelo, who had become disillusioned with communism after seeing the Soviet Union firsthand, left Moscow at the end of 1957. He writes that he last saw Pasternak at Ivinskaya's Moscow apartment on Dec. 25, 1957. Pasternak, he recalled, had with him a book of poems by Osip Mandelstam, "his close friend who died in the camps."

"He makes an inspirational speech about his poetry and asks me to give the book to Feltrinelli," D'Angelo wrote.

Pasternak doubts the exchange ever took place.

"D'Angelo's description of this party arouses perplexity," he wrote. "First of all, Mandelstam's poetry. Could an Italian publisher know anything about the poet Mandelstam? Could he possibly appreciate his poetry? . . . Pasternak could not have been talking about Mandelstam with inspiration. This is not Pasternak! It is all fantasy or memory aberration."

"Yevgeny Borisovich thinks he is the only authority on Pasternak," D'Angelo said the morning after the debate, using Yevgeny Pasternak's patronymic. "He believes he owns his father's legacy."

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