Response to E.Pasternak

In order for me to give a complete picture, I must also mention that the accusation of violence towards Pasternak had already been made by others, and was exaggerated to its extreme after the fall of the Soviet regime. This is how it happened: at the end of the ‘90s, EB was starting legal proceedings (I doubt his father would have approved) against Olga’s heir and daughter, Irina Emelianova, to gain possession of documents that Olga (who had disappeared not long before) had received from Pasternak and kept in a wardrobe that I remember well. For the most part, they were Pasternak’s manuscripts, typescripts he had corrected by hand, old books that had become rare or even unobtainable, and a vast quantity of letters: in short, things of considerable value (in the first place sentimental) that had belonged indisputably to Olga and had been seized at the time of her arrest. The dispute in court, from which EB came out winner (unless I’m mistaken, he was denied only Pasternak’s correspondence with Olga), provoked startling repercussions. A letter that Olga had addressed to Khrushchev in the hope of obtaining a gesture of clemency while she was serving her own sentence in the concentration camp was released from the archive of the ex-KGB and landed at the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. This letter cited as a mitigating factor the alleged coercion that had forced Pasternak to demand that Feltrinelli abandon the publication of Doctor Zhivago. Omitting, of course, to say that at that point the publication of the novel could not have been prevented either in Italy or anywhere else. Commenting on the letter, however, Moskovsky Komsomolets claims that Olga had always been a KGB spy and as such had kept an eye on Pasternak from the start of their relationship, instead of explaining the humane reason for that omission. This was an outrageous lie that most likely aided EB in winning his lawsuit.

— How Pasternak sought to compensate me. On November 25, 1957, two days after the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Italy, Pasternak wrote and sent by what means I do not know a letter to Feltrinelli full of warm thanks that ended with the following words: “For you now I have a great request. Nothing of what has happened could have been possible without the participation of S.d’A, who has been our custodian angel in this. Although help of such a high level cannot be given value in financial terms, it will give me great joy to compensate him when he returns to you, for his boundless expenditures of time and energy, in the following way. From the sum that you consider necessary to keep for me for the future, deduct a significant amount for the benefit of S.d’A, that which you deem necessary, and double it.” It was a decade before I knew anything of this letter.

On December 25, 1957, when on the eve of my definitive return to Italy we said our farewells with a small party in Olga’s apartment, Pasternak gave me a letter to deliver to Feltrinelli and asked me to read it immediately in his presence. I was astonished. Among other things, as I described in an article that appeared in the magazine Vita at the beginning of the ‘60s, Pasternak had arranged to give me “half and even more” of his proceeds. (In hindsight, I do not doubt that he realized, in the absence of a thank-you on my part, that Feltrinelli had ignored the instructions in my favor contained in the letter of the previous month.) As I described again in said article of Vita, I joked about it from the beginning, declaring that it would be a good idea next time around, when we would have written a new novel together; and then, since Pasternak continued to insist on his exorbitant offer, I wrote a large NO in block capitals next to the lines regarding me, not wanting Feltrinelli to think, even for a moment, that I had solicited an offer of that kind. Some few days after, I delivered the letter to the Milanese publisher, who, in the presence of some of his influential colleagues commended me for declining the money offered.

On February 2, 1959, in a letter to Feltrinelli, Pasternak asked that 110 thousand dollars of his proceeds be distributed as a gift to seventeen people living in the West. He had included me among the recipients, knowing for certain that I had not benefited from his previous surges of generosity, and imparted this to me directly by letter on April 6, as quoted in my book. “In this list,” he wrote, “I have set aside ten thousand dollars for you, as I have to my sisters; I apologize that it is so little.” Two or three weeks later, as soon as I was able to get in touch with him, I stated that I accepted his gift with extreme gratitude (and Feltrinelli handed it over to me some months after).

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