Title: The Secrets We Kept
Author: Lara Prescott
Publisher: Hutchinson
Genre: Historical fiction
Book format: Hardcover
Sweet Strawberries: Sweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet Strawberry

Description: 1949: the celebrated Russian author Boris Pasternak is writing the novel that will become Doctor Zhivago.
The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.  But in the rest of the world it is fast becoming a sensation.
In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.
Thieir agents are not the usual spies, however.  Two typists 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.
Passions, power, secrets and a banned masterpiece with the power to change history lie at the heart of this irresistible novel.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  Oh wow, I’m not sure what to say about this book except how amazing, interesting and compelling it has been to read!  The Secrets We Kept is an historical fiction, which also feels like a thriller.  It’s set in the times of the Cold War, when Boris Pasternak is writing and wanting to publish his novel Doctor Zhivago.  The Soviet Union make it illegal for the book to be published because it criticizes certain activities but the countries in the West find it a powerful read and feel that everyone should read it, especially those in Russia.  So the US sets about trying to get hold of the banned masterpiece, in attempts to get it back into the Motherland.

The Secrets We Kept inner cover image one
©The Strawberry Post – The inner cover has pictures from the time in the West

The book is exciting to read from the first pages.  It switches sections frequently from what is happening in the East (the Soviet Union) to what is happening in the West (mainly the US, but other countries too).  The plot begins with the East and is set before Pasternak has even finished writing the novel.  We are introduced to his mistress, Olga, right away and see her being taken from her home for interrogation by the state.  The way Olga is subsequently treated, especially considering her state of health and what she’s actually done wrong, is terrible and gives you an insight into the grim reality of what people faced if they did anything perceived as wrong, in the Soviet Union at the time.

After some time the book switches to the perspective of what is happening in the West.  The whole book has multiple perspectives with different chapters focusing on the different characters.  There are more characters in the West than in the East parts of the novel but despite this fact, you are never confused by who the story is focusing on as the chapters are all titled according to who the story is following.  I actually really like the title headings as they look like they are typed with an old-fashioned typewriter and they change according to what is happening to someone, for example Olga is titled as ‘The Muse’ and ‘The Mother’ as well as other things.

The Secrets We Kept book page image one
©The Strawberry Post

The story continues to switch between East and West and while the story in the East begins earlier than the West, it soon catches up.  A lot happens to the characters and what is exciting is that the story in the East focuses not only on what happened with the publication, or attempts at publication of Pasternak’s novel but also the relationship between him and Olga.  I liked reading Olga’s chapters, she is a stronger character than first appears, I grew to like her more throughout the story, especially when she stands up for herself more, and what she went through was really terrible which just made me feel for her all the more.  It’s especially touching given the way Boris often treats her and their situation and although a lot of this story is fiction, it makes you wonder how much of the relationship dynamic was actually true.  The story in the East is a darker one, at one point showing what is happening in the Gulag which was quite a disturbing chapter considering what is happening to everyone there.  But as well as the East having its tale of what happens when someone tries to do something the state considers illegal, the West has it’s own chilling story if illegan activities to share.

The story of the agency and spies in the West who are trying to get hold of Doctor Zhivago to print it and send it back into the Soviet Union is interesting.  I had no idea when I began reading this about what happened with the publication of the classic novel and how much of an impact getting it sent back into the East to be read by the citizens would have.  The story of what the spies do and how they get the book into the East is interesting on its own but there is a deeper and more interesting tale that happens with some of the spies.  I don’t want to detail what happens as it makes a greater impact reading the book, but despite the US seeming like the ‘good guys’ who have freedom to publish Pasternak’s novel with all its detail, the US is far from perfect and there is activity that the government at the time considered illegal and treated certain members of society cruelly as a result.  It’s interesting as you can see the parallels with the story in the East, both sides having people whose lives are ruined by the state,  It makes the story in the West all the more appealing and despite some criticisms I’ve read in some people’s online reviews, I found it really made a deeper impact on the whole novel.

The book is compelling to read all the way to the end and the ending is a good one although not as happy as I would have liked.  It’s actually quite a shock at the end to hear what happens to two of the characters in the East and makes you realise just how brutal the Soviet regime was at the time.  The epilogue finishes off the book nicely, bringing us up to date with today.  I liked the way that several of the charcter’s lives were given an ending in this quick epilogue although I would have preferred a better ending to the story of the two the spies in the West who we never really learn what happens to them.  However the last lines are a fun intruguing way to end the story and I love the mention of the other woman!

The Secrets We Kept inner cover image two
©The Strawberry Post – The Back inner cover with more pictures this time from the East

This book is really amazing, it’s a thrilling and compelling read, and is just so interesting given the subject matter.  The author’s notes at the back of the book explain how a lot of the conversations and descriptions of certain things in the book are based on real life facts, taken from declassified CIA files.  Knowing so much of this is real just makes this book all the more fascinating to read and I can’t believe how much I have enjoyed reading this story.  It’s made me want to read Doctor Zhivago now too, and it’s definitely made me a fan of the author and her writing style.  If you are interested, whether you know the story behind Doctor Zhivago‘s publication or not, it’s definitely a book worth picking up and reading.

Have you read Doctor Zhivago?  Do you know the story behind the publication?  What do you think of this book?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂