Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for the book that Hutchinson Books is calling their “Major break-out debut of the year”. Thank you to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the blog tour, and to Hutchinson for my ARC copy of the book.
TWO FEMALE SPIES. A BANNED MASTERPIECE. A BOOK THAT CHANGED HISTORY.
1956. A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.
But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation.
In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.
Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists – the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina – are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago back into Russia by any means necessary.
It will not be easy. There are people prepared to die for this book – and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail – as this book has the power to change history.
Sold in twenty-five countries and poised to become a global literary sensation, Lara Prescott’s dazzling first novel is a sweeping page turner and the most hotly anticipated debut of the year.
An exciting read from the first few pages, I couldn’t put this book down. I’m a big history lover but didn’t know much about the Cold War. I relished the chance to learn and found that as well as a sensational book, this was also a fascinating history lesson. The evocative imagery drew me in and I was fully immersed in the world on the pages as I savoured every expertly written word.
Secrets. Love, Betrayal, Espionage. War. Oppression. Darkness. Hope. Freedom. History. The author has woven all of these things into this beautiful, moving and spectacular debut novel. We learn the truth behind Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago; how the banned novel came to be smuggled out of, and then back into the Soviet Union as part of a propaganda war by the US. We follow the network of courageous people charged with tasks than enabled its completion and publication, and moved between their varying perspectives and timelines in locations of East and West.
One thing that struck me about this book is the multitude of strong women. It was an era where the world was still seen to be very much run by men. Where women with degrees were destined for the typing pool whilst their sometimes lesser educated male counterparts were the boss and where the knowledge and power these women had often wasn’t seen. From the ladies in the typing pool, to Boris Pasternak’s lover, each has their own unique strengths.
A favourite character of mine was Irina. I enjoyed watching her grow quietly in confidence as she’s taken from a meek immigrant’s daughter to a brave US spy aware of, and delighting in, her own power. Once she is being trained by veteran spy Sally, her self-assurance blossoms and she wants to be more like her mentor, a woman who seems to exude it in her every move. Another woman who’s strength stood out for me was Olga, Boris’ mistress and muse. I did feel like her strength came from a very different place and was more self-serving, such as how she went to any length to help Boris no matter the risk to her children, who should have come first. While I didn’t agree with her putting her lover before her children, I did admire how she wouldn’t crumble even in the most desperate of circumstances. She was pivotal in Boris’ life and the story of Doctor Zhivago in a myriad of ways. The chapter in which she writes a letter to her interrogator about her experiences in the gulag, was emotional, devastating and yet hopeful. It was a stand-out chapter in the book and the one that I will probably remember most of all long after reading.
Like Doctor Zhivago, this is a story about love and war. And while it initially may seem that the story of the Cold War is most prominent, it was soon apparent that at the heart of this book is more than one love story. It is also a story about ordinary people doing remarkable things and trying to do their part to help change history. It’s easy to see why the film rights for this book have already been snapped up as it has all the ingredients needed to make a great movie.
The Secrets We Kept is a compelling, electrifying book that reads like a combination of literary fiction, historical fiction and thriller. If you know nothing about the Cold War or Doctor Zhivago then don’t let that deter you picking this up as I was the same before reading this. Not only have I learned a lot, but I’m eager to find out more and to read the book at its centre.
Out now to buy from your favourite bookseller.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lara Prescott was named after the heroine of Doctor Zhivago and first discovered the true story behind the novel after the CIA declassified 99 documents pertaining to its role in the book’s publication and covert dissemination.
She travelled the world – from Moscow and Washington, to London and Paris – in the course of her research, becoming particularly interested in political repression in both the Soviet Union and United States and how, during the Cold War, both countries used literature as a weapon.
Lara earned her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband.