The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott

"The Secrets We Kept" by Lara Prescott, (Alfred A. Knopf: New York) 2019, $26.95, hardcover, 349 pages.

Secrets: difficult to keep, often a relief when acknowledged. Lara Prescott’s novel weaves an intricate story full of historical fact and believable suppositions.

World War II has ended, but another even longer war has begun, the Cold War. The combat will not be as bloody, but the consequences just as dire. Much of the ammunition will be words, words used to create propaganda from both the Communist East and the democratic West, specifically the USSR versus the USA.

Drawing on sources previously unknown or neglected, Prescott presents stories of the women who fought such battles. Many women fought just as valiantly with resistance movements as men but after the war were relegated to lowly positions in the typing pool while their male counterparts were lauded and promoted. Prescott has an impressive list of sources she used, some of them only recently released by the CIA.

How many of us remember the movie “Doctor Zhivago”? Some of us may even have read the novel. Who knew of the international scheme to publish Pasternak’s opus? What possible problem could lie in such a love story? Pasternak was a highly praised poet in the Soviet Union, yet his government would not print his novel nor allow him to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature when it was published in the West.

How it came to the West involved Italian millionaires, the World’s Fair in Brussels, Vatican officials, Russian ballerinas and musicians and so many more. The story is fascinating all the more since it seems to us so innocuous. Pasternak’s longtime mistress has a key role, as do Americans from all walks of life, many of whom have secrets that must be kept. 

The Cold War climate was one of distrust and fear, events seen in black and white rather than shades of gray. The USSR was the Evil Empire out to take over the world and the West with America in the forefront did its best to prevent that.

The period from 1949 until 1961 was especially tense as chronicled in these pages. The space race began and the Soviets were in the lead. Stalin’s malignancy was now public as he filled the Gulag with his perceived enemies and had millions murdered. The world was on a precipice. Another war loomed ahead. Yet "Doctor Zhivago" would strike a blow for free speech.

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