The Secrets We Kept: A Novel. Lara Prescott. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. September 2019. pb, 368 pp.; ISBN: 9780525656159.
Secrets are held to protect individuals, groups, and nations. Our story begins with a group of typists working for the CIA who are told to type but not think about what they are typing and to forget what they are typing. Slowly but surely, however, they realize that certain typists are being pulled from their work to do more for the CIA, then known as the OSS. They are actually spies trained to deliver messages, packages and sensitive material. Irina Drozdova is the daughter of a Russian seamstress and a man who died under interrogation as they were leaving Russia. She is now a typist and she now has a reason to serve America in order to punish Russia for the loss of her father.
The novel alternates between these ladies and spies and the world of the famous Boris Pasternak, his wife and his mistress Olga Ivinskiya. Olga supports her lover while he is inspired by the Muse to create Dr. Zhivago for which he will one day be awarded the Novel Prize in Literature. Olga serves three years in a Russian Gulag and knows she has sacrificed her children and life for Boris; she has lived as the Lara in her lover’s novel.
The spies become messengers to deliver the Pasternak novel which is banned in Russia. They evolve into women and men with alternative lives. Sally Forrester and Irina become lovers in a very intense but brief affair, given that homosexuality is illegal in these times. Their separation becomes like a crushing loss like that of death. Because of their work they will never know love or solid relationships as all who marry are dismissed by the CIA.
Espionage and literature are forces that change the world, often with a very heavy cost to those carrying out the spying or writing. They are ready to kill or be killed to see it accomplished. This story is also about repression and exposure, a celebration of true liberty achieved through agony and ecstasy. Divided into alternate sections of “East” and “West,” the publication of the famous novel is charted from its original publication to its gradual spread throughout Europe and Russia itself. Olga suffers the result after the death of her love.
The Secrets We Kept… is an exciting, reflective, poetic and adventuresome read – marvelous, memorable historical fiction – highly recommended reading! Finely crafted, Lara Prescott!!!