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Authors: Lara Prescott

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“One moment,” Pasternak said. He walked toward his dacha, taking off his rubber boots before going inside. The two men remained standing in the garden.

“What do you think?” Vladlen asked.

“I don’t know. But I do think the novel will come out.”

“You are not Russian. You don’t understand how things work here. I don’t know what he’s written, but if it goes against cultural norms, no
thaw
will allow it to be published. If the State bans it here, it will be illegal for Pasternak to publish his book—anywhere. Not now, not ever.”

“He hasn’t been rejected yet.”

“It’s been months, and he hasn’t heard a response. They don’t have to say it to make the message clear.”

“That’s true, but I also know that history doesn’t stand still.”

There was movement in the downstairs front window. An older woman peered at them through parted curtains, then disappeared. “The wife?” Sergio asked.

“Must be, although I’ve heard he has a much younger lover who he doesn’t hide away. A public mistress who lives a short walk from here. She’s always on his arm, they say. All over Moscow. And his wife doesn’t put an end to it.”

The dacha’s door opened and Pasternak emerged holding a large brown paper package. He walked across the yard barefoot, then paused for a moment in front of his visitors before speaking. “This is
Doctor Zhivago.
” He held out the package and Sergio went to take it, but Boris didn’t let go. The two men held the package for a moment before Pasternak dropped his hands. “May it make its way around the world.”

Sergio turned the package over in his hands, feeling its weight. “Your novel is in good hands with Signore Feltrinelli. You shall see. I will be hand-delivering this to him in person within the week.”

Pasternak nodded but looked unconvinced. The three men said their goodbyes. As Sergio and Vladlen set off down the road to the train station, Pasternak called after them, “You are hereby invited to my execution!”

“Poets!” Sergio laughed.

Vladlen said nothing.

The next day,
Doctor Zhivago
was on its way to West Berlin—where Sergio was to hand off the manuscript to Feltrinelli himself, who would take it the rest of the way to Milan.

After a train, a plane, another train, three kilometers of walking, and one bribe, Sergio arrived safely at his hotel on Joachimstahler Strasse. The Kurfürstendamm was bright and showy and thumping with capitalism—everything Moscow wasn’t. Smartly dressed men and women walked arm in arm, going out to dinner or dancing or to one of the many
kabarett
that had reopened across the city. Volkswagen Beetles and motorcycles skidded around the wide boulevards with teenagers riding hunchbacked. Neon signs lit up one after the next:
NESCAFÉ
in yellow,
BOSCH
in red,
HOTEL AM ZOO
in white,
SALAMANDER SHOES
in blue. Tables lined the sidewalks of the many cafés and restaurants dotting the street. The sound of a piano drifted out of a cocktail lounge where a striking black woman resembling a curvier Josephine Baker was enticing passersby to come in.

Once in his room, he opened his suitcase and removed the tailored Oxford shirt and paisley-patterned silk pajamas that covered the manuscript, still wrapped in its brown paper. Twice he’d averted having his suitcase searched when crossing from East to West Berlin by making friendly conversation with soldiers on both sides and having the kind of face some people trusted and the kind of pockets that made the doubtful trust again. He kissed the manuscript, placed it inside the dresser’s bottom drawer, and covered it with the pajamas.

Sergio took a long shower. The hot water lasted only four minutes, which was three minutes longer than it lasted back in Moscow. After, he drip-dried while shaving in the bathroom mirror, happy he’d brought his own razor.

Although he craved Orecchiette alla Crudaiola and any wine made from Italian grapes, he settled for pilsner and schnitzel at the hotel bar. He knew that when Feltrinelli arrived the next day, his employer would know exactly where to go to celebrate the procurement of Pasternak’s novel; he’d have secured the best tables at the finest restaurants and the best Chianti moments after stepping off the plane.


After a breakfast of liverwurst, a boiled egg, herbed cheese, and a roll with marmalade, Sergio double-checked with the man at the front desk to ensure that Feltrinelli’s presidential suite would be ready for him.

“Do you have the cognac?”

“Ja.”

“The cigarettes?”

“We’ve located a box of Alfa cigarettes for Mr. Feltrinelli.”

“The sheets…they’re untucked at the end as he prefers?”

“I believe so.”

“Can you check then with the maid?”


Ja.
Can we do anything else for you?”

“Taxi?”

“Of course.”

At Tempelhof Airport, Sergio watched Feltrinelli’s plane touch down and come to a stop. A mobile staircase was driven up to its door. He stepped out with a newspaper tucked under his arm and paused at the top of the stairs to survey the Fatherland. His tan suit jacket opened and his tie flew back behind his shoulder with a gust of wind. Spotting his agent waiting for him below, he descended.

The publisher greeted Sergio warmly, kissing him on both cheeks, then shaking his hand. Sergio had met Giangiacomo Feltrinelli only a handful of times, but he had always been struck by his magnetism. Slimly built with dark hair styled back to reveal a high widow’s peak, Feltrinelli was the kind of man both women and men found themselves drawn to. Even his signature thick black glasses did nothing to hide the vitality in his eyes. Maybe it was his enormous wealth that earned him such attention. Or maybe it was the confidence that accompanied that wealth. Or it could be his collection of fast cars and custom-made suits, or the beautiful women who flocked to him. Whatever it was, Feltrinelli had it in spades.

Sergio took Feltrinelli’s calfskin bag and Feltrinelli took his arm as though they were school chums. Sergio suggested they go to a restaurant for lunch, but Feltrinelli shook his head. “I’d like to see it right away.”


Feltrinelli paced the hotel’s burnt-orange carpeting as Sergio fetched the manuscript. He handed
Doctor Zhivago
to his boss, and Feltrinelli held it in his hands as if he could feel its significance by its weight. He flipped through the novel, then held it to his chest. “I’ve never wanted to be able to read Russian more than now.”

“It is sure to be a hit.”

“I believe it will be. I’ve arranged for the best translator to take a look at it as soon as I get back to Milan. He’s promised to give me his honest opinion.”

“There’s something I haven’t told you.”

Feltrinelli waited for him to continue.

“Pasternak believes the Soviets will not allow its publication. I couldn’t say this in my telegram, but he thinks it doesn’t fit—how did he put it?—their
guidelines.

Feltrinelli brushed it off. “I’ve heard the same, but let’s not think of that now. Besides, once the Soviets find out I have it, they might just change their mind.”

“There was something else. He mentioned he was giving himself a death sentence by handing over the novel. Surely he was joking?”

Feltrinelli put the book under his arm without answering. “I’m here for only two days. We must celebrate.”

“Of course! What would you like to do first?”

“I want to drink good German beer, and I want to dance, and I want to find a few girls. And I’d like to purchase a pair of binoculars from a shop in Kurfürstendamm I’ve heard makes the best in the world.” He took off his glasses and pointed to his nose. “They take the measurements from the bridge of your nose to the outer corners of your eyes to create the exact fit. They’ll be perfect for my yacht. I must have them.”

“Of course, of course,” Sergio said. “I suppose my job is done, then.”

“Yes, my friend. And mine is just beginning.”

CHAPTER 11
The Muse
The Rehabilitated Woman
THE EMISSARY

My train pulled in to the station after four fruitless days in Moscow, after more fruitless attempts at persuading publishers to print
Zhivago.
I saw Borya sitting alone on a bench. It was late May and the sun had just begun to dip below the tree line. In the golden light, his white hair looked blond and his eyes seemed to sparkle even through the dirty train window. I felt a pain in my chest. From a distance, he looked like a young man, even younger than I. We’d been together nearly a decade and that exquisite pain was still there. He stood as the train doors opened.

“Something most unusual happened this week,” he said, taking my bag and slinging it over his shoulder. “I had two unexpected visitors.”

“Who?”

Borya pointed to the path that ran along the tracks, where we’d walk if we had something important to talk about. He took my hand and helped me cross. A train passed, going in the opposite direction, and rustled the bottom of my skirt with a gust of air. I could tell from his gait, a step faster than usual, that he was both excited and anxious. “Who visited you?” I asked again.

“An Italian and a Russian,” he said, his speech matching his pace. “The Italian was young and charming. Tall with black hair, very handsome. You would’ve liked him very much, Olya. He had such a wonderful name!
Sergio D’Angelo.
He said it’s quite a common surname in Italy, but I’ve never heard it. Beautiful, isn’t it?
D’Angelo.
It means
of the angel.

“Why did they come?”

“You would’ve been delighted by him—the Italian. The other, the Russian, I don’t recall his name—he didn’t speak much.”

I took hold of his arm, forcing him to slow down and tell me what he had to say.

“We had the most wonderful conversation. I told them about my time studying in Marburg as a young man. How much I had enjoyed traveling to Florence and Venice. I explained how I’d wanted to go to Rome as well, but—”

“Why did the Italian come?”

“He wanted
Doctor Zhivago.

“What did he want with it?”

Like a confession, Borya told me the story—about D’Angelo and the Russian and a publisher by the name of Feltrinelli.

“And what did you tell him?”

We stopped speaking as a young woman hauling a rickety cart filled with petrol cans passed us, then he continued. “I told him that the novel would never be published here. That it doesn’t conform to cultural guidelines. But he pressed on, saying he thinks the book could still be published.”

“How could he think such a thing if he’s never read it?”

“That’s why I gave it to him. To read. To get an honest assessment.”

“You gave him the manuscript?”

“Yes.” Borya’s demeanor changed, and he looked his age again. He knew he’d done something that was not only irreversible, but dangerous.

“What have you done?” I tried to keep my voice down, but it came out like steam escaping a kettle. “Do you even know this person? This foreigner? Do you have any idea what they’ll do when they intercept it? Or maybe they have it already. Did you think of that? What if this
D’Angelo
of yours isn’t even really an Italian?”

He looked like a spanked child. “You are thinking too much of this.” He ran his hand through his hair. “It will be fine. Feltrinelli’s a Communist,” he added.

“Fine?” My eyes watered. What Borya had done was akin to treason. If the West was to publish the novel without permission from the USSR, they would come for him—for me. And a brief stay in a labor camp wouldn’t be punishment enough this time. I needed to sit, but there was nowhere to sit except in the mud. How could he be so selfish? Had he thought of me even once? I turned and began walking back.

“Stop,” Borya said, coming after me. A shade fell across his bright eyes. He knew exactly what he’d done. “I wrote the book to be read, Olga. This could be its only chance. I’m ready to accept the consequences, whatever they may be. I’m not afraid of what they might do to me.”

“But what about me? You may not care what happens to you, but what about me? I’ve gone away once…I can’t…They can’t take me again.”

“They won’t. I’ll never allow it.” He put his arms around my shoulders and I leaned against his chest. It was as if I could feel a new separation between our heartbeats. “I haven’t signed anything yet.”

“You gave them permission to publish. We both know that. And that’s
if
they are who they said they are. There is no good outcome. I can’t go back there,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I won’t.”

“I’d rather burn
Zhivago
than let that happen. I’d rather die.” His words felt like running a hand under cold water after burning it on the stove—the pain might be soothed while the water runs, but as soon as you turn off the faucet, the throbbing continues. And in that moment, for the first time, I lost faith in him.

“This book will take us down a spiral from which there will be no return.”

“Let’s see. I can always tell him I made a mistake,” he said. “I can always ask for it back.”

“No,” I said. “
I
will ask for it back.”


I traveled to Moscow and, having pried the address from Borya, knocked on D’Angelo’s door, unannounced. An elegant woman with dark brown hair and arresting blue eyes answered. The woman introduced herself in broken Russian as D’Angelo’s wife, Giulietta.

D’Angelo came to the door and kissed my extended hand. “How wonderful to meet you, Olga,” he said, smiling rakishly. “I’ve heard rumors of your beauty, but you’re even more beautiful than they’ve said.”

Instead of thanking him, I launched right in. “You see,” I finished, “he didn’t understand fully what he was doing. We must have the manuscript back.”

“Let us sit,” he said, taking my hand and leading me back into the sitting room. “Would you like anything to drink?”

“No,” I said. “I mean, no thank you.”

He turned to his wife. “Darling, will you bring me an espresso? And one for our guest?”

Giulietta kissed her husband’s cheek and went into the kitchen.

D’Angelo rubbed his hands across his thighs. “I’m afraid it is too late.”

“What is too late?”

“The book.” He was still smiling, as people in the West do—out of politeness, not happiness. “I’ve delivered it to Feltrinelli. And he loved it. He’s already decided to publish it.”

I looked at him incredulously. “But it’s been only a few days since Borya gave it to you.”

He laughed too loudly for my liking. “I was on the first plane to East Berlin. Well, two trains, a plane, then so much walking that I needed to purchase a new pair of shoes by the time I reached West Berlin. Signor Feltrinelli flew in himself to meet me. We had quite a time there—”

“You must get the manuscript back.”

“That’s impossible, I’m afraid. The translation has already begun. Feltrinelli said so himself, that it would be a crime not to publish this novel.”

“A
crime
? What do you know of crimes? What do you know of punishment? The crime is for Boris to have it published outside the USSR. You must understand what you’ve done.”

“Mr. Pasternak gave me his permission. I wasn’t aware of any danger.” He stood and retrieved his briefcase from the entryway. Inside was a black leather journal. “See, I wrote it down the day I visited him in Peredelkino. I’d found his words so eloquent.”

I looked at the open page. Inside, D’Angelo had written:
This is Doctor Zhivago. May it make its way around the world.

“See? Permission. And besides”—he paused, and I sensed the Italian did feel some culpability—“even if I wanted to bring it back, it’s out of my hands now.”


It was out of my hands as well. Borya
had
granted his permission, and had lied to me about having done so.
Zhivago
had made its way out of the country, and things were in motion. All I could do was try to push forward with the plan to have the book published in the USSR before Feltrinelli published it abroad. It was the only way to save him, to save myself.

Borya signed the contract with Feltrinelli a month later. I was not there when he signed his name. Nor was his wife, who, for the first time, was in total agreement with me: the novel’s publication could only bring us pain.

He told me he thought a Soviet publisher would publish with the added pressure from abroad. I didn’t believe him. “You haven’t signed a contract,” I said. “You have signed a death warrant.”

I did my best. I pleaded with D’Angelo to pressure Feltrinelli to return the manuscript. And I saw every editor who’d meet with me to ask if they’d publish
Zhivago
before Feltrinelli could.

Word had gotten out the Italians had the novel, and the Central Committee’s Culture Department demanded its return from Feltrinelli. I found myself in the new position of having to agree with the State. If
Zhivago
was to be published, it
must
be published first at home. But Feltrinelli ignored the requests, and I feared what might come next. So I met with the Department’s head, Dmitri Alexeyevich Polikarpov, to see if I could soften their position.

Polikarpov was an attractive man whom I’d seen many times at events in the city but had never spoken with. He wore Western-cut suits with pegged trousers that brushed the sides of his shiny black loafers. He was known as an enforcer within the Moscow literary community, and my breath shortened as Polikarpov’s secretary ushered me into his office. But even before I sat down, I took a deep breath and began the plea I’d rehearsed on the train. “The only thing to do is publish the novel before the Italians do,” I reasoned. “We can edit out the parts deemed anti-Soviet before publication.” Of course, Borya knew nothing of my negotiation. I knew better than anyone that he’d rather his novel not be published at all than have it hacked apart.

Polikarpov reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small metal tin. “Impossible.” He took out two white pills and swallowed them dry. “
Doctor Zhivago
must be returned at all costs,” he continued. “It cannot be published as is—not in Italy, not anywhere. If we publish one version and the Italians another, the world will ask why we published it without certain sections. It will be an embarrassment to the State and to Russian literature as a whole. Your
friend
has put me in a precarious position.” He put the tin back in his pocket. “And you as well.”

“But what is to be done?”

“You can ask Boris Leonidovich to sign the telegram I will give you.”

“What does this telegram say?”

“That the manuscript Feltrinelli possesses is but a draft, that a new draft is forthcoming, and that the original manuscript must be returned posthaste. The telegram is to be signed within two days or else he will be arrested.”

That was the stated threat. The unstated threat was that my arrest would soon follow. But I knew Feltrinelli wouldn’t refrain from publication even if he received such a telegram. Borya had arranged to communicate with the Italian only in French and had instructed the publisher to disregard anything sent under his name in Russian. Plus, I knew it would cause Borya much shame to sign such a document. “I will try,” I said.


And I did. I asked him. I asked him to send the telegram to Feltrinelli asking for his manuscript back, as Polikarpov had instructed. I asked the man I loved to stop the publication of his life’s work. And when I did—over dinner at Little House—he just sat back in his chair. His hand went to his neck as if he were suffering a muscle spasm, and he was quiet for a long moment. Then he spoke.

“Years ago, I received a phone call.”

I put my fork down. I knew where he was going.

“It was shortly after Osip had been arrested for his poem against Stalin,” he continued. “He hadn’t even written it down, only committed it to memory. But even that proved to be a grievous mistake. Even the words in one’s head could be an arrestable offense during those dark times. You were but a child, too young to remember now.”

I refilled my wineglass. “I know how old I am.”

“One night he recited the poem to a group of us on a street corner, and I told him it was akin to suicide. He didn’t heed my warning, and of course they soon arrested him. Not long after, I received the phone call. Do you know who it was?”

“I’ve heard the stories.”

“Of course you have. But never from me.”

I moved to refill his wineglass, but he waved me away. “Stalin began without greeting, his voice immediately familiar. He asked if Osip was my friend, and if he was, why I hadn’t petitioned for his release. I had no answer for him, Olya. But instead of making the case for Osip’s freedom, I made excuses. I told the head of the Central Committee that even if I had petitioned on Osip’s behalf, it would never have reached his ears. Stalin then asked if I thought Osip was a master, and I told him that was beside the point. Then do you know what I did?”

“What, Boris? Tell me what you did.” I drank the rest of my wine.

“I changed the subject. I told Stalin I’d long wanted to have a serious conversation with him about life and death. And do you know how he responded?”

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