Random House announced yesterday that it will publish next year the prison memoir of Anatoly Shcharansky, a Jewish dissident who spent nine years in Soviet jails until his release in February. Neither the publisher nor Shcharansky's agent would discuss the terms of the contract.
"Let's put it this way," said Random House President Robert Bernstein, "whatever Anatoly Shcharansky makes on this book, he's more than paid the price."
Shcharansky, 38, who now lives with his wife Avital in Jerusalem, has already started work on the memoir, which is scheduled for publication in the fall of 1987. According to Random House he has no plans to engage the help of additional writers.
Random House Senior Editor Peter Osnos will edit the book. Osnos knew Shcharansky when Osnos was Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post in the mid-1970s.
"When Anatoly walked across that bridge in Berlin a few months ago, there was a bounce in his step," Osnos said. "But he had no idea he'd have the effect he's had on people. He's had to spend the last couple of months absorbing his situation and seeing how he could put it to use. One way is to sit down and write this book in a clear narrative fashion that will describe what can happen in a man's life and what he can endure."
Although Random House has obtained U.S. and Canadian hard-cover and paperback rights, Shcharansky's agent, International Creative Management, will arrange for foreign rights. Marvin Josephson, head of ICM, is active in various Zionist organizations and quickly became Shcharansky's representative after they met in Israel early last month.
"Anatoly and I talked about a number of publishers but the serious negotiations were always with Random House," Josephson said yesterday.
Bernstein has also been active in human rights issues, and on a visit to Moscow in 1976 he met with Osnos and Shcharansky. "We spent a day together," Bernstein said. "We toured the Jewish quarter of the city, the synagogue, and it was very clear to me then, in those days before the KGB swept him off the street and threw him into jail, that Anatoly was an effective and eloquent spokesman for his people."
Bernstein said he thought Shcharansky's book would "have something like the force of Arthur Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon.' "
British historian Martin Gilbert has recently completed a biography of Shcharansky based mainly on testimony at Shcharansky's trial in 1977. Galleys for Gilbert's book were already ready when Shcharansky was released two months ago and will be published next month by Viking Penguin.
No one close to the Random House negotiations would discuss financial terms, but the book will probably sell as well as some of the political biographies that have generated million-dollar contracts.
Said Josephson, "If Anatoly Shcharansky wanted to exploit his name or the fact that he has become a symbol of resistance to tyranny, he could have done all sorts of things. He isn't doing this for money. He still has a mission to help the thousands of Jews and others who remain in Russia against their will."
Josephson said any movie or television deals will wait until publication of the book.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole agreed that when Shcharansky visits the United States next month, he will be honored in a House-Senate ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on May 13. Shcharansky will also meet with President Reagan.