Title: The Secret’s We Kept
Author: Lara Prescott
Published: September 17, 2019 by Knofp
Genre: Cultural Russia, Historical Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 3.82 stars
“A thrilling tale of secretaries turned spies, of love and duty, and of sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago.
At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak’s magnum opus make its way into print around the world. Glamorous and sophisticated Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit all over the world–using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Irina is a complete novice, and under Sally’s tutelage quickly learns how to blend in, make drops, and invisibly ferry classified documents.
The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story—the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the Gulag and inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara—with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. From Pasternak’s country estate outside Moscow to the brutalities of the Gulag, from Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, The Secrets We Kept captures a watershed moment in the history of literature—told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail. And at the center of this unforgettable debut is the powerful belief that a piece of art can change the world.“
Published in September The Secrets We Kept is Lara Prescott’s first novel release and I can guarantee it will not be the last book of hers I read (unless she doesn’t publish anything else and then that would be a shame).
Let’s talk about the layout of the book to begin with. The story is told through the eyes of a number of people but is foremost broken into two story lines: The East and The West. Each time the storyline switches we are presented with the range of years we are now in and while each of the two stories independently are in chronological order, The West story line is always a few years ahead of The East story line, which unless your paying attention can quickly muddle the timeline for you. I had to go back a couple times to just make sure my brain was in the correct year. Ultimately, both storylines are connected and intertwined but Prescott does a marvelous job of weaving the two without giving you all the details until the end of the book.
While the novel itself is told between the eyes pretty much every character you meet in the book, at some point or another, the story follows Irina Drozdov, Sally Forrester, and Olga Ivinskaya. The other narrators in the book are merely spectators revealing gossip and giving us a well rounded (if not always accurate) portrayal of how they are witnessing the events around Irina, Sally, and Olga.
In the West both Sally and Irina work for the CIA typing pool and are not only typists but are also CIA Operatives aka spies. In a male dominated environment, Prescott has captured what it really meant to be a women during this era. Her depictions of the lifestyle of her characters and their sexual discrimination in the workplace is perfectly captured and honestly infuriating at times (which is a compliant to the writing style).
In the East, we meet Olga, who is Boris Pasternak’s mistress. We first meet her as she is being taking from her home, interrogated, and put into a labor camp for 3 years all for simply knowing Pasternak. We learn of her strength, will to live, and her dedication to Pasternak who’s well known and controversial book Dr. Zhivago is the lifeline of this novel. While Dr. Zhivago is the main aspects of this book, which I’ll get to next, Olga’s character captures the fear of being watched by the Soviet state and the dread of never being seen again. She demonstrates the will to live that only an oppressive state can summon.
The two storylines collide when Dr Zhivago is smuggled out of The East and into The West, where the CIA is willing to do just about anything to smuggle reprints back into The Soviet Union, in an attempt to manipulate public opinion and turn the Cold War in the favor of the States. I think that Prescott has done a great job at demonstrating the controversy surround the publication, distribution, and ultimately the suppression of Dr Zhivago; giving us all a better understanding of what a gift free speak and freedom of the press really is. If you enjoy a compelling book of espinage, escpecailly set in the Cold War, I highly recommend this book. Get it HERE!