Monday, 9 September 2019

New Release Spotlight & Review: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Hutchinson (5 Sept. 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1786331667

ISBN-13: 978-1786331663


1956. A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.

But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation. 

In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.

Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists – the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina – are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago back into Russia by any means necessary.

It will not be easy. There are people prepared to die for this book – and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail – as this book has the power to change history.

Sold in twenty-five countries and poised to become a global literary sensation, Lara Prescott's dazzling first novel is a sweeping page turner and the most hotly anticipated debut of the year.

The mention of Dr Zhivago was all I needed to persuade me to read The Secrets We Kept even though, like many of the characters within the narrative, I've never read Boris Pasternak's masterpiece, although, I do admit to borrowing a copy from the library back in the 1980s which I returned unread. Therefore I'm happy to say I've devoured this fascinating historical novel from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ms Prescott's début novel covers the intriguing history surrounding the circumstances of how Dr Zhivago was first published in Italy. Also, the covert work done by the CIA during the height of the Cold War to obtain a copy of the untranslated Russian manuscript. The aim to make copies available to Soviet citizens at a time when the unpublished work's deemed as Anti-Soviet by The Kremlin. She also reminds us about a time in history when sexism reigned and intolerance lead to punishment.

Told from mostly female points of view, the narrative unfolds in both The United States and the Soviet Union between 1949 and 1958. It includes the poignant and heartbreaking relationship strife experienced by Olga, Boris Pasternak's mistress as well as Irina Drozdova's time spent working in the Agency typing pool and her part of securing a copy of Pasternak's Russian manuscript after she and Sally are recruited into the world of espionage. Their parts in bringing Dr Zhivago to the world's literary stage, is laced with equally captivating inclusions of facts and social trends of the time including references to music, fashion and food. Yet, it's the drawing attention to the use of propaganda which sends a powerful message of equal importance as much today as it did half a century ago.

Within the last two years, my favourite books have mostly been historical novels and this one is a more than worthy addition to my list. With a reminder of Yuri and Lara's love story in my mind, The Secrets We Kept comes highly recommended.

***book bought and paid for by myself**

Lara Prescott was named after the heroine of Doctor Zhivago and first discovered the true story behind the novel after the CIA declassified 99 documents pertaining to its role in the book's publication and covert dissemination.

She travelled the world - from Moscow and Washington, to London and Paris - in the course of her research, becoming particularly interested in political repression in both the Soviet Union and United States and how, during the Cold War, both countries used literature as a weapon.

Lara earned her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband.

Twitter : @laraprescott