A lot of hype preceded this debut novel by Lara Prescott. it’s cover graces the front of the September Book Page. and Reese’s Book Club has chosen THE SECRETS WE KEPT for September. I had to read it!
A book about a book. But not just any book. Most of the secrets surround the publication of the Russian author, Boris Pasternak’s, DR. ZHIVAGO. You could even go so far as to say this is the novel that almost did NOT get published.
The first paragraph goes: We typed a hundred words per minute and never missed a syllable. Our identical desks were equipped with a mint-shelled Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter, a black Western Electric rotary phone, and a stack of yellow steno pads. Our fingers flew across the keys. Our clacking was constant. We’d pause only to answer the phone or to take a drag of a cigarette; some of us managed to master both without missing a beat. These are the girls, really women, who worked the typing pool in the Agency which would become the CIA.
Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy working within the CIA. Irina Drozdova is a Russian American who is plucked out of the typing pool to do more dangerous work. Sally takes her under her wing. Together they are a force. And then along comes “the special assignment” to smuggle the manuscript for DR. ZHIVAGO by Russian author, Boris Pasternak, out of Russia.
The timeline runs from 1949-1961. Yes, the Cold War. Russia. The Russian government would not allow DR. ZHIVAGO to be published on Russian soil. And Pasternak was desperate to publish his baby. So was his mistress, Olga Ivinskaya who inspired the character of Lara in the novel.
This novel is told in three voices. The first two are obviously the women spies. The third voice is Olga’s. She almost steals the story. Her chapters while incarcerated in the Gulag are tense and telling. To think she was dragged off for years and kept a prisoner because of her affiliation with her beloved Borya. The scenes inside the Gulag are harrowing and frightening. It’s a miracle anyone could survive it. Yet once she was released she fled right back to her love.
Boris Pasternak comes across as a brilliant author. We already know that. But he is also a weak man, a wet-noodle type of human. How this love affair continued I will never know. The entire affair was conducted while Boris was married with children. And in plain sight. Shocking.
From Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, and to the frigid ground of Soviet Russia, the plot thickens and begins to move. Get the manuscript out of Russia and get it published and show the world. That is the plan. Throw in a secret distribution of bootleg copies of the book at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and boom, you’ve got an electric story… And, the part I love is that there truly were bootleg copies given away at the Brussels’ World Fair. Love it.
I really can’t say much more because I don’t want to give the story up. But Prescott does a super job of going inside the characters and showing who they are, what they have been through, and where they are going. This is not your everyday spy book, by any stretch.
I love learning a great history lesson by reading a great novel. This one is perfect to add to your book club this season and seasons to come.
THE SECRETS THAT WE KEPT is published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House. I borrowed my copy from the library.
We have copies of THE SECRETS THAT WE KEPT by Lara Prescott discounted 20% and readily available on our shelves at Copperfish Books. We’d love to see you. Come on up!