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Omar Sharif, Boris Pasternak, The KGB and the CIA


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Midway through the year, while scanning a report of our recent high-value orders, a sale caught my eye. It was a copy of Boris Pasternak’s classic novel Doctor Zhivago, in its original Russian, bound in plain, blue cloth. It sold for $11,000. The bookseller’s description mentioned that this was the edition “covertly published by the CIA”. Obviously, I had to learn more about that. And I did. You can read all about the man who smuggled Doctor Zhivago into the light, here, from the KGB’s refusal to allow publication of the book in the Soviet Union, to the CIA’s very real involvement and eventual declassification of documents nearly 60 years later.

During my research, I also discovered the 1958 Pantheon edition of Zhivago (below), complete with many, many black and white illustrations by Alexander Alexeieff.

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While I was initially disappointed to not have glossy, full-color illustrations, it ended up feeling so fitting. The more of Zhivago I read, and the more I learned about the climate in which in was written, the more the images seemed perfectly aligned with the book’s contents. And they’re quite beautiful. They’re all black and white. While I don’t know the original medium, I’d be tempted to guess charcoal. Some of the drawings seem crude and undefined in their style, but still manage to convey a strong message and elicit an emotional response. This is just a drop in the bucket- the book is just full of these dark, snowy, stark and telling images.

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