Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Editorial Adventures of Pasternak's Masterpiece 

edited by Paolo Mancosu

A lucky find at Moe's leads Berkeley professor Paolo Mancosu on an exciting adventure in censorship and freedom in the time of the cold war. 

   I do not exaggerate when I say that Moe's has been a key element of my Berkeley experience since the time I moved here in 1995. I cannot think of another used bookstore anywhere in the world, and I have visited many of them, that compares in quality to Moe's. In addition to being a "trading zone" –namely a place where people with different languages, products and expectations interact and exchange goods and ideas – a constant renewal of the stock and fair prices keep bringing me back as a faithful customer. Of the many books I bought at Moe's, the chance encounter with one of them in particular can truly be described as a case of "serendipity". 

   About three years ago I began studying Russian again, a language I had studied in the late 1980s and early 1990s but which I had not continued to practice on account of more pressing commitments. As I often do when I start a  new project, I began buying some books in the area and this is how I stumbled, in November 2011, on a copy of Doctor Zhivago in Russian for sale at Moe's. I paid $20 for it without knowing exactly what I was buying. Once at home, I decided to check on line booksellers  just to get some information about the edition and its value on the market. I thus discovered that I had bought the first official edition of the Russian text published by the University of Michigan Press. I was stunned when I saw that some booksellers were selling it for $5000. Intrigued by the history of the book, I discovered that the first worldwide edition had come out in Italian in 1957 for the publisher Feltrinelli. It was through an agreement with Feltrinelli, who owned the copyright for Doctor Zhivago, that the University of Michigan press had published the Russian text in early 1959 (the copy I had bought!). I thus began reading more about the publication history of Doctor Zhivago and the more I read the more I wanted to know. I was puzzled by a few aspects of the publishing history and my research became more serious, eventually leading me to work in American, European, and Russian archives. 

   In the course of this research, I was also given access, for the first time, to the Feltrinelli archives in Milan, which were invaluable for reconstructing what is certainly the most complex literary-political case of the twentieth century.  The publication history of Doctor Zhivago features Pasternak, Feltrinelli (one of the richest men in Italy at the time and a member of the Italian Communist Party), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, The Italian Communist Party, the KGB, the CIA, and countless other characters. All of this, and much more, is recounted in detail in my book "Inside the Zhivago Storm. The editorial adventures of Pasternak's masterpiece" (Feltrinelli, Milan, 2013), which is the outcome of that serendipitous encounter with the Russian Zhivago at Moe's. The reader of this blog, who is curious to see what the book contains, can access the the table of contents, the preface and parts of Chapter 1 here:
More information and other press materials can be accessed from the following site:

   I offer the above comments as an expression of gratitude for Moe's unique and irreplaceable role in our community.

Paolo Mancosu

Doctor Zhivago, the masterpiece that won Boris Pasternak the Nobel Prize in 
1958, had its first worldwide edition in 1957 in Italian. The events surrounding its publication, whose protagonists were Boris Pasternak and the publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, undoubdtedly count as one of the most fascinating stories of the twentieth century. It is a story that saw the involvement of governments, political parties, secret services, and publishers.

In Inside the Zhivago Storm. The Editorial Adventures of Pasternak’s Masterpiece, Paolo Mancosu, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, provides a riveting account of the story of the first publication of Doctor Zhivago and of the subsequent Russian editions in the West.

Exploiting with scholarly and philological rigor the untapped resources of the Feltrinelli archives in Milan as well as several other private and public archives in Europe, Russia, and the USA, Mancosu reconstructs the relationship between Pasternak and Feltrinelli, the story of the Italian publication, and the pressure exercised on Feltrinelli by the Soviets and the Italian Communist Party to stop publication of the novel in Italy and in other countries. Situating the story in the historical context of the Cold War, Mancosu describes the hidden roles of the KGB and the CIA in the vicissitudes of the publication of the novel both in Italian and in the original Russian language. The full correspondence between Boris Pasternak and Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (spanning from 1956 to 1960) is also published here for the first time in the original and in English translation.

Doctor Zhivago is a classic of world literature and the story of its publication, as it is recounted in this book, is the story of the courage and of the intellectual freedom of  a great writer and of a great publisher.

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