Copies of Doctor Zhivago were employed by the CIA in order to counter Soviet ideology during the Cold War.
The decades after WWII were a time of intense rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was East versus West and the battle for world hegemony was a tough one indeed. In its efforts to win the Cold War, the CIA tried many ploys.
One of these involved a famous Russian author whose book had become a bestseller. Boris Pasternak’s novel “Doctor Zhivago” captured the imagination of a generation. It was a story about a physician and poet who carried on two love affairs during revolutions and civil wars in Russia.
The “Doctor Zhivago” novel showed that the doctor didn’t subscribe to Soviet ideology as laid down by Marx and Engels. This of course shocked the Russian authorities and Pasternak’s book was banned from being published in the Soviet Union. But the CIA found this novel useful as a means of propaganda against the Kremlin and its worldview.
It was a strange situation since here was a novel by a Russian author that was world famous but not allowed in the Soviet Union. No Russian could read it which was kind of pathetic. And when Boris Pasternak received the Nobel Prize for Literature he was not allowed by the authorities to travel to Sweden to receive the award. Such was the pity!
Yet the CIA found this repression the very reason to distribute copies of the novel to Russians. The goal was to get as many editions of the novel into the hands of the common citizens of Russia as possible.
On various occasions when the two countries came face to face to display their cultures in exhibitions, the CIA passed on copies of the by-now notorious novel into Russian hands. The strategy worked partially and soon the name of the book was on every Russian’s lips.
Word got to Boris Pasternak and he continued to firmly stand behind his venture. Boris did not cater to the Soviet high commands diktat. Despite being told to change the novel by the censor boards, he refused to do so. For this he had to pay a very high price since he was shunned by the publishers in his own country.
Yet he won the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. A movie was made based on his novel “Doctor Zhivago” later on. Today the Cold War is over and Boris Pasternak is no more. Yet he continues to haunt the minds of millions. And that is with his memorable tale of a doctor who chooses to live life according to his own conscience instead of in synch with alien orders.