Response to E.Pasternak

RESPONSE

TO THE OBJECTIONS OF EVGENY PASTERNAK

2007

In early September 2007, my personal testimony of the dramatic consequences of the publication of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago – which was banned and disavowed by the Soviet authorities – was published in Moscow in conjunction with the Book Fair. Just before giving my book, The Pasternak Affair: Memories of a Witness, to the printers, the publisher Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie conceived the idea of having Evgeny Borisovich, Pasternak’s only living offspring, write the preface, and asked me what I thought of the idea. There was no objection from my part. I had met EB for the first time around 2000, and in a long conversation had proposed to him my desire to write my memories of the events surrounding the publication of Doctor Zhivago as soon as it would be possible to support them with documents dating back to the Soviet period that were kept in various Russian archives. Regarding certain events, or our ways of interpreting them, we found ourselves in disagreement. What’s more, his refusal to grant me authorization to consult the KGB files concerning Feltrinelli’s relationship with the Soviet authorities in the years of my lawsuit against the Italian editor – files to which he had access, since he was one of the people implicated in those matters – still rankled, whereas Olga Ivinskaia’s daughter, Irina Emelianova, granted me authorization for the three KGB files on her and her mother’s trial not long afterward. But it was my belief, and still is, that a preface may voice questions, criticisms, and suggestions for slight adjustments to possible future editions of a book, provided they are in the bounds – this goes without saying – of an overall positive judgement of said book and a basic respect for its author.

These bounds, instead, were grossly exceeded in the text of the “preface” that EB managed to have placed at the end of my book with the title “Annotations on the ‘Memoirs…’,” believing that he could have the last word. I would certainly have responded to the attempt to discredit my testimony (because that is what it is) if EB had attacked me in a magazine or in a book of his own; namely, exercising his freedom of opinion and speech in an appropriate setting. All the more so, then, do I feel the need to respond to his “Annotations,” starting with some vital preliminary remarks.

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For some time, EB has taken on the role of guardian and caretaker of his father’s literary estate with the help of his wife Elena. He has promoted the publication and reprinting of certain of his father’s works, has written a biography, has transformed the dacha in Peredelkino into a museum, and has presided over public readings and commemorations. All this is quite true. But none of this takes away from the fact that in earlier times, those of the Doctor Zhivago affair, the then-young EB remained completely on the outside and unaware of the behind-the-scenes politics (pressures and threats) that forced Pasternak, together with Olga Ivinskaia, to restrict himself. There were, of course, reasons why EB remained apart. One the one hand, he was then absorbed in a profession (I think he was an official in the army Corps of Engineers) that probably left him little occasion to speak with his father. And on the other hand, his father was in the habit of hiding or minimizing the dangers hanging over him from the eyes of his family, not least because his wife Zinaida – as A. Surkov wrote to M. Suslov August 19, 1961 – was “a woman without doubt loyal to the Soviet authorities and [who] had never approved of what her husband had done with his latest novel.”

In any case, the fact remains that in 1989, when white lies were no longer necessary to avoid the angry reactions of the powers that be, EB recounted in one of his books (Boris Pasternak, Materials for a Biography, pp. 628-629) that in the spring of 1956 “a representative of the foreign commission of the Union of Soviet Writers had brought Sergio D’Angelo, member of the Italian Communist Party and contributor to Radio Moscow, to Pasternak’s house… In the course of the official visit, the manuscript of the novel had been passed on to D’Angelo so that he could read it.” Even with a distance of 33 years, EB was still unaware not only of the nature of the meeting at Peredelkino, which was anything but official, but also in particular of the irrevocable decision made by Pasternak in that same meeting to have his novel published abroad: in other words, the decision that triggered what Olga Ivinskaia would come to call “the saga of the novel.”

I must also remark that EB gives the impression of having read my book in great haste. His objections, in fact, almost as a rule ignore all of my proof and arguments, to which I have usually dedicated several pages; so much so as to force me now, in order to be clear with everyone, to repeat what many of my readers will likely not have forgotten. Nevertheless, in this response I will consider only those objections concerning subjects of substantial importance; I will omit all of those objections that simply seek to make a fuss over points that are entirely marginal and that cannot therefore affect the assessment of my book.

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— My first meeting with Pasternak (May 20, 1956) and the expatriation of Doctor Zhivago. These are two events, as I have said, about which there was nothing official, nor conspiratorial. EB changed his version of the first event (that already referred to in my preliminary remarks) and put the truth to rights on page 439 of a book he wrote with his wife Elena and published in 2004, called The Life of Boris Pasternak. As to the latter event, however, he now seems to have adopted Lolli Zamoisky’s version, a former influential colleague of mine from Radio Moscow, who recently described my meeting with Feltrinelli in Berlin as an all-out conspiracy that took place in the depths of a subway station. Of course, I have known for a long while that Lolli is a most pleasant mythomaniac, ever since the time he told me an unbelievable story about his revolutionary grandfather. And such he has remained, even after his militancy in the KGB in which he was made colonel, writing fanciful books and carving out a role for himself in the Doctor Zhivago affair that he did not have in the least.

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