THE SECRETS WE KEPT by Lara Prescott
Kirkus Star


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Inspired by the true story of the role of Dr. Zhivago in the Cold War: a novel of espionage in the West, resistance in the East, and grand passions on both sides.

“We typed a hundred words a minute and never missed a syllable.…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.” Prescott’s debut features three individual heroines and one collective one—the typing pool at the Agency (the then relatively new CIA), which acts as a smart, snappy Greek chorus as the action of the novel progresses, also providing delightful description and commentary on D.C. life in the 1950s. The other three are Irina, a young Russian American who is hired despite her slow typing because other tasks are planned for her; Sally, an experienced spy who is charged with training Irina and ends up falling madly in love with her; and Olga, the real-life mistress of Boris Pasternak, whose devotion to the married author sent her twice to the gulag and dwarfed everything else in her life, including her two children. Well-researched and cleverly constructed, the novel shifts back and forth between the Soviet Union and Washington, beginning with Olga’s first arrest in 1949—“When the men in the black suits came, my daughter offered them tea”—and moving through the smuggling of the Soviet-suppressed manuscript of Dr. Zhivago out of Russia all the way up to the release of the film version in 1965. Despite the passionate avowals and heroics, the love affair of Olga and Boris never quite catches fire. But the Western portions of the book—the D.C. gossip, the details of spy training, and the lesbian affair—really sing.

An intriguing and little-known chapter of literary history is brought to life with brio.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-525-65615-9
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2019