A documentary highlights the determination and risks taken by the Soviet poet Boris Pasternak to publish his book, despite the Kremlin's censorship.

By Philippe-Jean Catinchi Posted yesterday at 20h15

Time to Reading 2 min.

Undated photo of Boris Pasternak. Image from Nino Kirtadze's documentary.
Undated photo of Boris Pasternak. Image from Nino Kirtadze's documentary. Zadig Productions


At the end of October 1958, an essential episode of the cold war was played on an unexpected terrain. On the 23rd of the month, distinguishing a work published outside the borders of the USSR and without the approval of the Soviet authorities, the Swedish Academy proclaims the poet Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), author of Dr. Zhivago (1957), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The text, published by the Milanese Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (1926-1972), then in France at Gallimard since June 1958, is also widely distributed in Russian and in pocket format thanks to the CIA, which is due to the wide circulation of a book seen from the Kremlin as "A stew of slanders, bathed in lies and hypocrisy", whose author is "Worse than an enemy: a purulent abscess".

Greeting the poet as the perfect continuation of the tradition of the Russian novel, the Nobels unleashed the wrath of the Union of Soviet Writers, which withdraws, on October 27, his status as a writer in Pasternak for "Moral and political decadence", forcing the laureate to "refuse" the international distinction two days later.

Read also "Doctor Zhivago" by Boris Pasternak: heir to the great Russian novels of the 19th century

Poor victory for the Soviet apparatus, even if Pasternak, who is barely evicted, is deprived of means of subsistence and dies shortly after, on May 30, 1960, without being able to rule out the fact that his death may not have been natural. His posthumous victory – under Gorbachev, the exclusion of the Writers' Union is canceled in February 1987 and Dr. Jivago finally published in the USSR the following year – puts an end to the incredible story of a manuscript Pasternak wanted at all costs to ensure dissemination.

An unwavering resolution

Poet, musician and philosopher, the young author is suspicious in the eyes of Trotsky, since 1922. And if he escapes, almost alone of his friends, to the Stalinist deportations and purges, it owes it to his talent of translator. Also, when he pours into a novel the sum of his experiences through a Yuri Zhivago, his double, in a fresco that embraces the Russian society from the 1905 revolution to the Civil War (1917-1922), Pasternak advances without caution jostling all uses, aware that his audacity will not pass.

"My own fate is less important to me than my ideas. " This confession, made to one of his French correspondents at the height of the arm-wrestling which he delivers with the Soviet authorities, says the unshakable resolution of Pasternak. The writer had rightly felt that his insubordination would be perceived as unacceptable: by handing over the manuscript of the Dr. Zhivago to Sergio d'Angelo, an Italian communist journalist who played Feltrinelli as a literary agent, he commented: "I invite you to my execution. "

Read also The hymn to Pasternak's life

Precise and precise, the documentary of the director Nino Kirtadze, born ten years after the scandal of 1958 and who understood only very late the tremendous burden that symbolized the paperback hidden by his family behind the fridge, does justice to this incredible courage that it was necessary for a writer who preferred the truth of creation to his material comfort.

An opportunity also to pay tribute to Jacqueline de Proyart, missing January 30, 2019. Young student, it is she who collected from the hands of Pasternak in February 1957, the manuscript copy for Gallimard. She was, along with Hélène Peltier-Zamoyska, Michel Aucouturier and Louis Martinez, one of the four translators of the French version – not credited to avoid Soviet sanctions.

"I invite you to my execution, The file" Doctor Jivago "", by Nino Kirtadze (Fr., 2018, 60 min). On Arte.tv until February 25, 2020.


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