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The Secrets We Kept

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Secretaries turned spies, love and duty, and sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago. At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetim Secretaries turned spies, love and duty, and sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago. At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak's magnum opus make its way into print around the world. Glamorous and sophisticated Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit all over the world--using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Irina is a complete novice, and under Sally's tutelage quickly learns how to blend in, make drops, and invisibly ferry classified documents.


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Secretaries turned spies, love and duty, and sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago. At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetim Secretaries turned spies, love and duty, and sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago. At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak's magnum opus make its way into print around the world. Glamorous and sophisticated Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit all over the world--using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Irina is a complete novice, and under Sally's tutelage quickly learns how to blend in, make drops, and invisibly ferry classified documents.

30 review for The Secrets We Kept

  1. 4 out of 5

    JanB

    DNF’d at 38% I was expecting a suspenseful spy novel, but what I got was thinly disguised romance/chick-lit. It's all too common with historical fiction in recent years, and why I struggle with the genre. The love affair between Pasternak and Olga left me cold, the alternating narratives in the West chapters were confusing, the secretarial pool characters lacked depth, and the writing style was simplistic. Frankly, I was bored silly. DNF’d at 38% I was expecting a suspenseful spy novel, but what I got was thinly disguised romance/chick-lit. It's all too common with historical fiction in recent years, and why I struggle with the genre. The love affair between Pasternak and Olga left me cold, the alternating narratives in the West chapters were confusing, the secretarial pool characters lacked depth, and the writing style was simplistic. Frankly, I was bored silly.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Lara Prescott weaves a fascinating tale of espionage during the Cold War using Boris Pasternak’s book Dr Zhivago as the basis for her debut thriller. Dr Zhivago is a book that was banned in Pasternak’s homeland - the Soviet Union. People are willing to die for this book, but on the other side of the coin there are agents prepared to kill for it too! Set both in the East and the West, our two main protagonists Sally Forrester and Irina Drozdov work in the CIA typing pool, a very male dominated env Lara Prescott weaves a fascinating tale of espionage during the Cold War using Boris Pasternak’s book Dr Zhivago as the basis for her debut thriller. Dr Zhivago is a book that was banned in Pasternak’s homeland - the Soviet Union. People are willing to die for this book, but on the other side of the coin there are agents prepared to kill for it too! Set both in the East and the West, our two main protagonists Sally Forrester and Irina Drozdov work in the CIA typing pool, a very male dominated environment of former OSS operatives, (and indeed the typists were OSS operatives too, all heroines in their own right’). However, our two protagonists are not merely typists, they’re also spies! A smuggled copy of Pasternak’s novel finds it’s way to the West, and the CIA use this to their political advantage by sending reprints back to Russia, to manipulate public opinion, and turn the Cold War in their favour. The author has captured the Cold War era in the West perfectly by means of the lifestyle of her characters, and also the political and sexual attitudes in the workplace, most of which would be frowned upon today. In the East, we get more than a sense of how married Pasternak maintains a relationship of many years with his muse/lover Olga Ivinskaya, a woman who spent three years in a labor camp because of her association with him, and it captures so well the fear of being watched constantly by the State, and the dread that one day a government black car will turn up and they will never be seen again. This is a compelling account of the suppression, publication and distribution of Dr Zhivago and all the controversy surrounding it, and it was such a pleasure to read. I expect it will be a great hit! *Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for my ARC. I have given an honest unbiased review in exchange *

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dorie - Cats&Books :)

    ***NOW ON THE INDIE NEXT LIST FOR SEPTEMBER*** I am going to change my rating on this book to a 3.5 rounded up to a 4 star book. I love books about spies, particularly women spies so I had really high expectations for this book. I had some problems with the flow, back and forth between what was happening with the author of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, in the East and what was going on in the West, centering on the CIA and how it planned to use the book as a “weapon” against the Soviets. All in ***NOW ON THE INDIE NEXT LIST FOR SEPTEMBER*** I am going to change my rating on this book to a 3.5 rounded up to a 4 star book. I love books about spies, particularly women spies so I had really high expectations for this book. I had some problems with the flow, back and forth between what was happening with the author of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, in the East and what was going on in the West, centering on the CIA and how it planned to use the book as a “weapon” against the Soviets. All in all I enjoyed this book, it just took me a while to get through it. The novel starts during the time of the Cold War, four years after the end of WWII. Boris Pasternak was a renowned writer in Russia, short stories and poetry, and was well loved by the Russian government and the general population, that is until Russia became the USSR under Lenin and then Stalin. Boris saw many of his fellow artists, writers, musicians, painters, being taken away to labor camps or met with an even worse fate. Stalin tolerated Boris and he was allowed to live in a beautiful country home as well as his apartment in Moscow. At the point when we enter the story, Boris is working on what he hopes will be his masterpiece. He is writing a novel about the way Russia used to be before communism and the truth about the revolution. It will tell of the opportunities and freedom that are no longer a part of life under communism. His lover and muse, Olga, will figure prominently in the book. When the West gets wind of the novel they immediately start to set in motion plans to smuggle the novel out of the USSR, translate it for distribution in other countries and then ultimately smuggle the finished copies back into the hands of the people of Russia. The novel was banned from publication and distribution in Russia. One of my favorite quotes “Teddy rose to get another drink, returning with two martinis, an extra olive in his. “A toast?” Henry asked, to what?” “The book, of course. May our literary weapon of mass destruction make the monster squeal.” The sections on the typing pool in the West, comprised of well educated women, some who had completed covert operations during the war interesting and upsetting. Now these women are relegated to typing the notes of the men in charge of operations with no input into what goes on! One woman, Irina, is singled out as being useful for the tasks associated with smuggling the novel out of Russia. She was brought up speaking the language fluently as her mother was Russian. She is taught at length about covert operations first by her boss Teddy and then later by another agent, Sally, with whom there is an immediate connection. The sections on the East deal not only with Boris but with Olga who suffered the fate of 3 years in a labor camp for her association with Pasternak. Boris has a wife and two children but we don’t really get to know much about her except that she allowed Boris to keep his mistress as long as he spent his “writing” time at the country house with her. There is romance and love, family and commitments involving the characters in the US and in the East. There are also strong opinions on loyalty to one’s government but even more so, to the rights of an individual to speak, write and read whatever they want. Reminding me once again how fortunate I am to live in a free country. I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley. Publication date is set for September 3, 2019.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nilufer Ozmekik

    FOUR BLAZING STARS IN LOVE OF ZHIVAGO AND OTHER FASCINATING RUSSIAN CLASSICS WE TRULY ADORED! Here we go! A thrilling espionage story about secret spy typist women agents at the Cold War era, shaping around creating process of Doctor Zhivago and its writer’s tumultuous, mind-blowing love story with his muse and mistress Olga! Da! Count me in! Already opened a new bottle of Chardonnay to being accompanied with this page-turner! Nazdarovya! So CIA captures the copies of Doctor Zhivago and uses thi FOUR BLAZING STARS IN LOVE OF ZHIVAGO AND OTHER FASCINATING RUSSIAN CLASSICS WE TRULY ADORED! Here we go! A thrilling espionage story about secret spy typist women agents at the Cold War era, shaping around creating process of Doctor Zhivago and its writer’s tumultuous, mind-blowing love story with his muse and mistress Olga! Da! Count me in! Already opened a new bottle of Chardonnay to being accompanied with this page-turner! Nazdarovya! So CIA captures the copies of Doctor Zhivago and uses this as their leverage to send the reprints to Russia as a turning point in their favor. Then we’re taking an amazing journey and closer look to the dysfunctional but also devoted relationship of Boris and Olga. Olga has spent three years in labor camp because of his connection with Pasternak. After her returning back to home, Boris was about to leave her ( ITCHY HAND alert! I think the famous writer is about to be slapped by one of his die-hard redhead fan because he disappointed two women at the same time! His wife seems to know he has secret lover and stays silent to give him enough space to write his book. But he neglected both of them so it seems there is no happy ending for anyone at this love triangle) Those romantic and biographical parts could be considered as pace slower parts of the thrilling tension about the espionage parts but I mostly enjoyed them. When you found a way to learn more about how one of your favorite classics had been written and the personal life of your favorite writer wrapped up in an intriguing spy story, you take it without hesitating! At least that’s what I did! And we have amazing badass typist slash women spies: Irina was commended to smuggle the book and she is chosen because of her linguistic skills, quick learning and adaptation capabilities. She worked Sally, another skillful, smart, brave, independent woman who is not scared to take more risks! Their boss Teddy l became their Bosley to their one angel minus team. I started this novel as a page-turner thriller but instead of that I got more emotional, heart-warming and political book about life, family, freedom of thoughts, opinions and expressions. Speaking and reading rights and importance of freely communicate with the others. I enjoyed the writing, the other normal typist girls and their smartly written dialogues, two spies and love story behind one of the most fascinating classical books. Going back and forth between the time lines was a little confusing but the author perfectly wrapped up the story and combined different genres impeccably in one story.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Taking place during the pinnacle of the Cold War, accomplished and well educated women were relegated to the typing pool at the CIA by the old boy network while their male counterparts began careers. Two unique women whom excel at keeping secrets become spies tasked with obtaining the manuscript of Dr. Zhivago for publication in the west since the Soviet State finds the content offensive and will not publish. Moving between the east and the west there are two love stories, dangerous missions and Taking place during the pinnacle of the Cold War, accomplished and well educated women were relegated to the typing pool at the CIA by the old boy network while their male counterparts began careers. Two unique women whom excel at keeping secrets become spies tasked with obtaining the manuscript of Dr. Zhivago for publication in the west since the Soviet State finds the content offensive and will not publish. Moving between the east and the west there are two love stories, dangerous missions and much soul searching. Exciting doesn’t begin to describe this meticulously researched and dramatic journey. I am astonished that a book this remarkable is a debut. Without a doubt it will be a best selling blockbuster. Prescott has quite a career ahead of her.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    I didn't think it was possible to write a novel containing spies that completely lacks mystery or intrigue, but alas. So much promise, but it completely falls flat since it leans on totally hollow characters. I didn't think it was possible to write a novel containing spies that completely lacks mystery or intrigue, but alas. So much promise, but it completely falls flat since it leans on totally hollow characters.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    I feel like I’m in a bit of a reading slump. ☹️ This book sounded like a plot line that would interest me: Set in the Cold War two secretaries are tasked by the CIA to smuggle the novel Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR. Sounds cool, right?! I was expecting a faster pace and this just read so slow. 😬 I listened to the audiobook and it would put me to sleep in the middle of the day. 😴

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)

    Well I made it up to the 62% point until I flung this book into the dnf pile. I am pretty annoyed that what I thought I was reading, a spy drama concerning the bringing of the book Dr Zhivago to the west and publishing it as a cautionary tale against a totalitarian regime, became nothing but a chick lit story. What is happening to the historical fiction genre when fictional characters are so included that they ruin a wonderful premise and make it into something that is barely historical and major Well I made it up to the 62% point until I flung this book into the dnf pile. I am pretty annoyed that what I thought I was reading, a spy drama concerning the bringing of the book Dr Zhivago to the west and publishing it as a cautionary tale against a totalitarian regime, became nothing but a chick lit story. What is happening to the historical fiction genre when fictional characters are so included that they ruin a wonderful premise and make it into something that is barely historical and majorly fiction? The inclusion of a current trend into each and every story line, tends to make the book become ordinary and sometimes makes me think an author must check off PC boxes in order for their story to be told. So no recommendation on this one from me. Jan and I read it together and she was smart and bailed out before me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    ”Sometimes they’d refer to us not by name but by hair color or body type: Blondie, Red, Tits. We had our secret names for them, too: Grabber, Coffee Breath, Teeth. “They would call us girls, but we were not. “We came to the Agency by way of Radcliffe, Vassar, Smith. We were the first daughters of our families to earn degrees. Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly plans. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was ‘Can you type?’” Th ”Sometimes they’d refer to us not by name but by hair color or body type: Blondie, Red, Tits. We had our secret names for them, too: Grabber, Coffee Breath, Teeth. “They would call us girls, but we were not. “We came to the Agency by way of Radcliffe, Vassar, Smith. We were the first daughters of our families to earn degrees. Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly plans. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was ‘Can you type?’” This begins four years after the end of World War II, and among these women were “leftovers” from the OSS, women who had been legends for their heroic and dangerous work during the war were also just women, after all, and were reduced to typing with the rest of the typing pool. Still, one or two of these women seem to work their way into proving their worth to the agency, outside of typing, and soon they are tested to see how well they can keep secrets, and follow instructions, and they end up being spies for the agency. Eventually, the task that is revealed involves finding and acquiring the manuscript for Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, in order to make copies to be distributed to Russian readers, who will be attending an event on US soil, and will return with these books in hand to share. Since the novel was banned in Russia for its revolutionary, subversive content, they are hoping to sway the Russian people through the beauty and power of the compelling nature of this Nobel Prize winning literary legend. And, as with Dr. Zhivago, there is a love story or two, but there is also a focus on loyalty and love, love in its many forms from romantic to familial, sacrifice and the cost of sacrifice over time to all involved. Perhaps what stood out the most to me was the emotional toll it took for these women to live in the shadows of these men, and in the shadows as spies, or seditious - and never to be thought worthy of voicing their opinion or objection to a course of action set by men. This is one of those rare books, a historic and finely-crafted page-turner about the power of the written word that will leave you contemplating such topics as equality, sexuality, censorship, the freedom of the press and how books have the power to change lives – all topics that are still as relevant, if not more, today. This is certainly destined to be a best seller. Many thanks for the ARC provided by my Book Angel!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kate Quinn

    Got a chance to read this one for a cover quote, and I will definitely be offering one. It's terrific! Got a chance to read this one for a cover quote, and I will definitely be offering one. It's terrific!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I realy enjoyed this book , it is beautiful but also heartbreaking and I loved every second of it , now I want to read dr zhivago , 4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marcy

    2.5 - I’m in the minority of GR readers on this book, but I barely got through it. The writing was simplistic, the characters two dimensional, and the story often warped into melodrama, especially during the Russian chapters. Didn’t care about any of it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    2.5 stars, rounded up I will admit to never having read Doctor Zhivago. And my memories of the movie had it as more romantic than political. But in reality, the book painted a dim picture of Russia during and after the revolution and was not published in Russia until 1987. The Secrets We Kept is based on the true story of how the CIA smuggled copies of the book into Russia. Chapters alternate between an unnamed secretary, Olga, Pasternak’s mistress and Irena and Sally, who were both spies. The se 2.5 stars, rounded up I will admit to never having read Doctor Zhivago. And my memories of the movie had it as more romantic than political. But in reality, the book painted a dim picture of Russia during and after the revolution and was not published in Russia until 1987. The Secrets We Kept is based on the true story of how the CIA smuggled copies of the book into Russia. Chapters alternate between an unnamed secretary, Olga, Pasternak’s mistress and Irena and Sally, who were both spies. The secretarial pool almost acts like a Greek chorus would. “Secretary: a person entrusted with a secret. From the Latin secretus, secretum. We all typed, but some of us did more. We spoke no word of the work we did after we covered our typewriter each day. Unlike some of the men, we kept our secrets.” I found the constantly alternating points of view- first person, second person and third person narrations disturbing. Unfortunately, the story has more of a chick lit feel to it rather than historical fiction. I didn’t feel like it did a good job of immersing me in either time or place. It does cover the CIA’s belief in literature as a sales tool for democracy. Flip side, the Soviet’s willingness to punish not just the one accused of traitorism but their loved ones as well. There’s a Mad Men feel to the novel in the way women are treated as people to be under appreciated and used. The book is aptly named as everyone was keeping secrets, both personal and professional. I just wish I had been made to care about any of these characters. There was a dryness here, a two dimensional feel to the book. The writing lacked any grace or a sense of poetry that I would have expected given the topic. I’m really disappointed as I expected to love this book, given the topic. This was a book club selection and I’m wondering if others will love it more than me.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Picture Mad Men set in the early days of the CIA with an equal dose of historical fiction at the sunset of Stalin's reign over the Soviet Union. I found both sections highly engaging and couldn't flip the pages fast enough. I was a little unsure if I would like this book given that so much of it was focused on Dr. Zhivago (which I haven't read yet, but it's been on my shelf since my Russian History college days so now I will definitely read it soon), so I didn't know if a lot of it would go over Picture Mad Men set in the early days of the CIA with an equal dose of historical fiction at the sunset of Stalin's reign over the Soviet Union. I found both sections highly engaging and couldn't flip the pages fast enough. I was a little unsure if I would like this book given that so much of it was focused on Dr. Zhivago (which I haven't read yet, but it's been on my shelf since my Russian History college days so now I will definitely read it soon), so I didn't know if a lot of it would go over my head since I wasn't familiar with the plot of that book. If you share the same concern there is nothing to worry about. I think my not having read it almost helped me because a lot of characters in the book readily admit not having read the book either until years and years after the operation. I'm going to stick with my 4 star rating, but I was slightly disappointed in the ending. Things just kind of peter out, BUT and that's a big one - I'm not sure that assessment is totally fair either. There was so much build up and suspense with all the characters and as the book rounded down I could feel it simmering out. At the same time, I think it was true to life (now that I'm really reflecting properly in writing this review) since life always keeps going. Once operations happen and spies do their jobs, they don't sit around and talk about it for years. They move on to the next operation/mission and on and on. I guess my slight disappointment comes from wanting to have followed Sally and Irina a bit longer. Maybe most will disagree and think the author ended it appropriately, but I was hoping to stick around a little while longer. Overall, this was a great read and one I plan to own in the future. I suspect this book will do very well and probably will be made into a series (which I will watch eagerly) - especially now with the Reese Witherspoon bump. I've been burned a bunch by her picks, but this is one I'm happy to say is a good one. Thank you to Edelweiss, Knopf Publishing and Lara Prescott for the opportunity to read and provide an honest review of this book! Review Date: 9/10/19 Publication Date: 09/03/19

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Much has been said about this book, it has been ‘hyped’ ( not a great word but its as it is ) and spoken about as ‘THE book of the year’ and various other platitudes The book is all about ( trying to keep this as simple as can ) Doctor Zhivago, the author of it, his lover, how the book was banned and how America managed to get the book published and into Russia ( all based on fact ) intermingled with fiction re the ‘spies’ of the 1950’s, the ‘typists’ of the American Govt, who saw all and said no Much has been said about this book, it has been ‘hyped’ ( not a great word but its as it is ) and spoken about as ‘THE book of the year’ and various other platitudes The book is all about ( trying to keep this as simple as can ) Doctor Zhivago, the author of it, his lover, how the book was banned and how America managed to get the book published and into Russia ( all based on fact ) intermingled with fiction re the ‘spies’ of the 1950’s, the ‘typists’ of the American Govt, who saw all and said nothing and a forbidden love affair between a typist and a spy That is the easiest way to explain it, the reality of the book is more complex It was fascinating to read the ‘typists’ take on working for the ‘spies’ and I enjoyed that part of the book the most, the flowery romanticism of the author and his lover left me cold at times if I’m honest and the story of ‘forbidden love’ although poignant was over before it really began and no one really enjoys chapters of a forsaken lover nattering on about lost love, do they?? The part at the World Fair where the ‘spies’ distribute copies of the book to Russians was well done and you felt the urgency of the task The ‘typists’ characters were great, the rest ‘ok’ and didn’t really raise an emotion either way Quite a bit of repeated story that ‘filled out the book’ I am sure many will love this book but it sets its stall out very high with its own praise ahead of publication and will be interesting to see how it is received 6/10 3 Stars

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell

    I went into this book knowing very little about it and very little about the subject matter. I've never read Doctor Zhivago, but that doesn't matter for this book. It's about the mission that the U.S. government put on in the 1950's to disseminate propaganda, in the form of anti-Soviet literature, within the Soviet Union. The novel puts, at its forefront, female typists in the U.S. government, some of whom are covert agents assisting in the mission. The writing is fairly straight forward but st I went into this book knowing very little about it and very little about the subject matter. I've never read Doctor Zhivago, but that doesn't matter for this book. It's about the mission that the U.S. government put on in the 1950's to disseminate propaganda, in the form of anti-Soviet literature, within the Soviet Union. The novel puts, at its forefront, female typists in the U.S. government, some of whom are covert agents assisting in the mission. The writing is fairly straight forward but still, at times, poetic. The characters really grew on me, though because it juggles so many POVs it can be a bit stretched thin at times. However, I think the length and pacing are excellent. I liked the switching back and forth in locations and how that was distinguished by the chapter breaks. This is the kind of book I would not be shocked to see adapted to screen in the next few years—whether as a film or miniseries. And I would definitely watch it. Overall, a nice debut and one that would appeal to wide array of readers.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Peyton

    I got to page 200 and decided to quit on this one. The story was just too all over the place, too many characters with odd names, it was hard to keep them all straight... story was also told from random point of views that weren’t very clear cut on who was talking until half way into a chapter and then I felt like I missed a lot of what was going on.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Daviau

    This book absolutely BLEW me off my feet! It is a stunning masterpiece. It has something for EVERYONE, trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this book. From espionage to banned books to politics to a love story, this book has it all. I was absolutely enthralled right from page one and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to immerse myself deeper into this beautiful story. I love the different viewpoints that were used, it really brought something special to the storytelling because we got to se This book absolutely BLEW me off my feet! It is a stunning masterpiece. It has something for EVERYONE, trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this book. From espionage to banned books to politics to a love story, this book has it all. I was absolutely enthralled right from page one and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to immerse myself deeper into this beautiful story. I love the different viewpoints that were used, it really brought something special to the storytelling because we got to see the story unfold from all sides. I could go on and on but just do yourself a favour and read this book!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    A terrific, absorbing, multi-voiced spy novel centering around the women working for the CIA in the 1950s- specifically a young Russian-American secretary who is soon recruited for cloak and dagger work by an actual female "sparrow" (active agent) posing as a receptionist, the story accompanied throughout by the Greek Chorus of the typing pool, embodying both the female wisdom and also the self-limitation of women living in a system in which they cannot rise. This story, "West," is played agains A terrific, absorbing, multi-voiced spy novel centering around the women working for the CIA in the 1950s- specifically a young Russian-American secretary who is soon recruited for cloak and dagger work by an actual female "sparrow" (active agent) posing as a receptionist, the story accompanied throughout by the Greek Chorus of the typing pool, embodying both the female wisdom and also the self-limitation of women living in a system in which they cannot rise. This story, "West," is played against a more dramatic story, "East", depicting the relationship of Boris Pasternak and his great love and muse, emissary and in many senses victim, Olga Ivinskaya, the model for Lara in Zhivago. The stories come together over Pasternak's epic novel of the Russian Revolution, Doctor Zhivago. The CIA was active in using literature and the arts as weapons in its task of discrediting the Soviet Government, and The Secrets We Kept is the story of the publication of Dr. Zhivago in the West, and the CIA's involvement in republishing the novel in Russian and its efforts to smuggle the novel back into the Soviet Union. "West" is an enjoyable mixture of Mad Men '50s detail with spy craft and sexuality and the life of Washington DC in the era, where "East" deals with the more serious, difficult choices the great poet had to make in his personal and professional life, and how this devolved upon the woman he loved most. Very well done. There are books that get five stars because they push the envelope of literature, and books that get five stars because they deliver on what they intended to deliver, a ripping yarn, of which this is one. Great gift book with wide appeal.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    Brilliant. Just brilliant. Everything about this novel, from its premise — a fictionalized account of the true plot by the CIA to thwart communism through "cultural diplomacy"— to its the multiplicity of perspectives, including the Greek chorus CIA typing pool, the haunted Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya, imprisoned in a Gulag for her involvement with famed writer Boris Pasternak, the "Mad Men"-esque characters of Cold War Washington D.C., and their fashions, passions, parties — to the women who bec Brilliant. Just brilliant. Everything about this novel, from its premise — a fictionalized account of the true plot by the CIA to thwart communism through "cultural diplomacy"— to its the multiplicity of perspectives, including the Greek chorus CIA typing pool, the haunted Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya, imprisoned in a Gulag for her involvement with famed writer Boris Pasternak, the "Mad Men"-esque characters of Cold War Washington D.C., and their fashions, passions, parties — to the women who became spies, their stories all but forgotten by modern readers until Lara Prescott breathed life into their legacies — just sings and sparkles with verve and vibrancy. Boris Pasternak, the famed Russian writer, agonized for years over his classic novel Dr. Zhivago. Part of the agony was his fear that not only would it not be published in his homeland, but he risked arrest should it ever come to life in any print form. The Soviets banned it, sight unseen. And the Americans hatched a clever plot once they realized how a banned book could take the world by storm. The manuscript, smuggled out of the Soviet Union by a clever if not ethics-starved Italian publisher, would be smuggled back behind the Iron Curtain in a Russian translation to needle the Soviets and thwart their attempts to starve the Russian people of their cultural heritage and heroes. Never mind that this mission risked the lives of Pasternak and his lover, Olga Ivinskaya, who recounts harrowing years already spent in a Siberian prison camp for her relationship with Pasternak. Back in the USA, Irina Prozdhova, a young Russian-American living at home in D.C. with her widowed mother, is hired into the CIA's Soviet Russia (SR) division typing pool. By day, she clatters and clacks her way through endless reports. A natural introvert, she keeps a bit of distance from the snappy, sharp chattering of the other secretaries, but she doesn't go unnoticed. Recruited as a spy, she is trained by the irresistible, statuesque, OSS-veteran Sally Forrester. The two women, as different as chalk and cheese, bond in way that leaves Irina confused and Sally rueful. Their friendship is the beating heart of this passionate narrative. Part thriller, part romance, all engrossing historical fiction with the ringing bell of feminism omitted from history so often written by men, The Secrets We Kept is that ideal blend of compulsively readable popular fiction and intelligent, compelling literature. I'm thrilled to learn that this debut novel went to auction, garnered Prescott an enormous advance (although that can be a curse as much as a blessing, but I think in this case she will earn out that advance and then some), and that the rights have been sold as a major motion picture. So well deserved for this young (thirty-seven-year-old) author and this outstanding, complex, original novel.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aoife

    3.5 stars TW: Sexual assault and some homophobia I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers/author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. In the late 1950s, the CIA published Russian copies of Doctor Zhivago and smuggled them behind the Iron Curtain in order to spark an unrest among Soviet citizens. In The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott explores the women who may have helped the mission, as well as the intriguing relationship between Russian author Boris Pasternak and 3.5 stars TW: Sexual assault and some homophobia I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers/author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. In the late 1950s, the CIA published Russian copies of Doctor Zhivago and smuggled them behind the Iron Curtain in order to spark an unrest among Soviet citizens. In The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott explores the women who may have helped the mission, as well as the intriguing relationship between Russian author Boris Pasternak and his mistress Olga, who is known to have inspired the Doctor Zhivago character Lara. I really enjoyed this book, and learning some really amazing things about the revolutionary Doctor Zhivago which I never knew before. I definitely have to put my hands up and admit that, at the time of writing, I have yet to read Doctor Zhivago but I have very much enjoyed the BBC mini series of it with Keira Knightley, which I'm pretty sure we got free DVDs of in the Sunday paper! The complexities of all the female characters in this really drew me in, and the amount of character growth we see (particularly with Irina). I loved the chapters from the 'typists' in the CIA, and how this book also focused on women who had done some amazing things during the war and then been relegated to secretarial and homemaking duties once the men came home, and how hard this was for a majority of them. I will say that I feel like I did want something more from this book. I think I expected to be wowed and I didn't quite get that wow moment - and I really felt like the reader would eventually get more from Irina and Sally's relationship, and it definitely felt more like it just meandered away a bit sad and disappointing. Besides that, the history behind this book really just fascinated me, and I think Lara Prescott did a great way in bringing it to life using some fictional characters.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This was a fun historical novel, set in the 1950s during the Cold War. The story followed several secretaries in the CIA, but my favorite scenes were set in Russia and revolved around the writer Boris Pasternak and his mistress. As part of a propaganda mission, the CIA hoped to smuggle Pasternak's manuscript Doctor Zhivago into the West and get it published before the Soviet censors could destroy it. The novel has a big cast of characters, and each chapter follows a different person. I listened This was a fun historical novel, set in the 1950s during the Cold War. The story followed several secretaries in the CIA, but my favorite scenes were set in Russia and revolved around the writer Boris Pasternak and his mistress. As part of a propaganda mission, the CIA hoped to smuggle Pasternak's manuscript Doctor Zhivago into the West and get it published before the Soviet censors could destroy it. The novel has a big cast of characters, and each chapter follows a different person. I listened to this on audio and it was an enjoyable read. Recommended.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) It’s the latest Reese Witherspoon book club selection and film rights have been sold to the producers of La La Land; if you haven’t already heard about The Secrets We Kept, you’ll be hearing a lot more soon. Prescott’s debut novel is an offbeat spy thriller set mostly in the 1950s and based on the international reception of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Considered to express anti-Soviet opinions, Pasternak’s love story is suppressed in his native country but published widely in Western (3.5) It’s the latest Reese Witherspoon book club selection and film rights have been sold to the producers of La La Land; if you haven’t already heard about The Secrets We Kept, you’ll be hearing a lot more soon. Prescott’s debut novel is an offbeat spy thriller set mostly in the 1950s and based on the international reception of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Considered to express anti-Soviet opinions, Pasternak’s love story is suppressed in his native country but published widely in Western Europe and further afield. The Central Intelligence Agency, in the belief that books are one way to change ideologies in the long term (“They had their satellites, but we had their books”), decides it is important to make Doctor Zhivago available in its original Russian in the motherland, and duly enrolls two female spies – who have been masquerading as a typist and a receptionist – in the scheme. First-person narration duties are shared by Olga Vsevolodovna, Pasternak’s lover and the inspiration for Lara in Doctor Zhivago; Irina Drozdova, a new secretary at the Agency; Sally Forrester, the more experienced spy who takes Irina under her wing; Teddy Helms, Irina’s first trainer and would-be romantic interest; and the typist pool as a whole. I have a special love for the first-person plural voice, used as a kind of observant chorus. Here it doesn’t work perfectly: Chapter 17 unnecessarily recaps information readers had already gleaned, while Chapter 20 is a clunky way of revealing more. But the ‘we’ of the title is not just these all-seeing typists (who reminded me of the secretaries in Mad Men), but also Sally and Irina, as well as Olga and her family, who often suffer for their connection with Pasternak. The epilogue carries things through to the present in a hopeful, almost whimsical way. There’s a lot to appreciate about The Secrets We Kept, including the prominent roles played by women, the surprising place given to a same-sex relationship, and the glimpses into publishing and literary history. Prescott might have included more about Doctor Zhivago itself, though. The plot will most likely be unfamiliar to today’s readers. (I saw the film nearly 20 years ago and remember nothing.) Including more passages and some careful plot summary might have tempted more readers to try Pasternak’s work as we approach the 60th anniversary of his death in 2020. Still, this is in a very easy-reading style that lends itself to binges, and it nicely bridges the gap between literary fiction and spy stories. Recommended to: readers of Jessie Burton and Whitney Scharer; viewers of The Americans. Originally published, with images, on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl James

    I feel like I loved this book more than I can say that I did. I just don't like the feeling of reading a book and being a little confused as to what I read. I know I read about the women as spies, the book that was published and should not have been, and all the secrets in between however I feel like I should have read the "Doctor Zhivago" (the actual book in the story) in order to get a full understanding. This is a true story and that is what really kept my interest. Just know that this book i I feel like I loved this book more than I can say that I did. I just don't like the feeling of reading a book and being a little confused as to what I read. I know I read about the women as spies, the book that was published and should not have been, and all the secrets in between however I feel like I should have read the "Doctor Zhivago" (the actual book in the story) in order to get a full understanding. This is a true story and that is what really kept my interest. Just know that this book is going to take you to a lot of places just to get you where the author wants you to be. The story never goes into detail as to why the book could not be published in Russia and what was in the book that was so devastating that it could not be published even though it was published in other countries and the author won a noble prize for the book which he did not accept. The book was listed as a love story so what was the problem? So many questions and not enough answers but at the end of the day I did like what I understood.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    Awful. I should have known better than to believe the blurb, but Zhivago being a book dear to me, I thought it might illuminate an interesting part of the book´s path to publication and acclaim. Nowhere near that. It´s chick lit, and very bad chick lit. The characters´ voices are interchangeable,besides being shallow,one dimensional and sometimes plain silly.The "romance" is badly done,the writing is choppy and repetitive. The book (Zhivago) is just filler,even Pasternak and Olga are caricatures. Y Awful. I should have known better than to believe the blurb, but Zhivago being a book dear to me, I thought it might illuminate an interesting part of the book´s path to publication and acclaim. Nowhere near that. It´s chick lit, and very bad chick lit. The characters´ voices are interchangeable,besides being shallow,one dimensional and sometimes plain silly.The "romance" is badly done,the writing is choppy and repetitive. The book (Zhivago) is just filler,even Pasternak and Olga are caricatures. Yes, I´m angry. Angry at the publishers for selling junk for what it´s not, and at myself, for falling for it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Literary Redhead

    NOT WW II — WHEW! I first saw this book, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, on NetGalley and knew I had to read it. What a joy to find glorious historical fiction not set during WW II. COLD WAR THRILLER Prescott’s debut novel occurs during the Cold War, with chapters that flip between the CIA in the States and Russia — where Boris Pasternak (author of DR. ZHIVAGO) and lover Olga (inspiration for the character Lara), struggle to get his masterpiece published. MAGNIFICENT NYT critic Janet Maslin cal NOT WW II — WHEW! I first saw this book, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, on NetGalley and knew I had to read it. What a joy to find glorious historical fiction not set during WW II. COLD WAR THRILLER Prescott’s debut novel occurs during the Cold War, with chapters that flip between the CIA in the States and Russia — where Boris Pasternak (author of DR. ZHIVAGO) and lover Olga (inspiration for the character Lara), struggle to get his masterpiece published. MAGNIFICENT NYT critic Janet Maslin calls THE SECRETS WE KEPT “above average.” I found it magnificent, and I am not alone as it sold to Knopf for $2 million at auction. I tore through the pages, lost in the world of spies and counterspies and the CIA’s efforts to smuggle Pasternak’s opus, finally published in the West, back into Russia as a propaganda tool. CIA ALIVE Prescott does a splendid job of creating the life of the all female CIA typing pool, from which a young Russian America woman is plucked for espionage work, first trained by a young man she becomes engaged to, then by a gorgeous experienced female spy she falls in love with. We see the rampant anti-LGBTQ prejudice that ruined careers and lives, and the toxic sexism of the mid-century, which sent former female OSS stars to die professionally as typists. PATH TO SUCCESS The author’s own path to literary success is as thrilling as the plot. She was turned down initially by grad schools, then after accepted into Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas was told by a literary agent that Russia was no longer of interest to readers. SUPERSTAR Initially deflated she kept on writing, leading to the $2 million auction, novel rights sold in 30 countries, and a major movie sale option. IMPATIENT WAIT As Churchill said, “Never give in — never, never, never, never.” Thank God Lara Prescott did not. I can’t praise her debut enough and am counting the hours ‘til her next offering.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    There’s no secret that the Secrets We Kept is going to be a big hit this fall. It’s one of those books that I imagine publishers dream about – filled with true-to-life intrigue, touching upon little-known history, and presenting real-life and fictional characters that readers really care about. Like most people, I’ve seen the movie Dr. Zhivago multiple times and it has never failed to captivate me (interestingly, I minored in Russian literature but never read the book). Although I was aware that There’s no secret that the Secrets We Kept is going to be a big hit this fall. It’s one of those books that I imagine publishers dream about – filled with true-to-life intrigue, touching upon little-known history, and presenting real-life and fictional characters that readers really care about. Like most people, I’ve seen the movie Dr. Zhivago multiple times and it has never failed to captivate me (interestingly, I minored in Russian literature but never read the book). Although I was aware that the CIA has psych-ops units designed to change hearts and minds, I had no idea that this beloved classic was jokingly referred to as a “literary weapon of mass destruction.” Nor was I aware of the back story of its publication. This book alternates between the East and the West. In the East – the Soviet Union – we meet famed author Boris Pasternak, his lover and muse Olga (who was the inspiration for Lara), and his compulsion to write a masterpiece that would capture the truth about the revolution and stand the test of time. In the West, we meet the “girls” of the CIA typing pool, the secret-keepers, and the “swallows” – those who ascend to actual secretive work. The two focal points of this sorority-of-sorts are Irena and her mentor, Sally, who are unconventional and free-spirited yet tied down by the milieu which they must inhabit. Typically, when a novel shifts from one story to the other, one of the two threads fades by comparison. But here, both stories are strong. There are fascinating insights into the CIA machinations of the ‘50s and the way women were treated. And there are also great revelations about Boris Pasternak’s life and his struggle to follow his literary muse even when it is in conflict with what his beloved land deems “correct.” It’s a book I can confidently recommend to just about anyone – those who love NYT “Top Ten” books, literary readers, and readers who veer toward well-researched historical books. It’s a winner, through and through.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows)

    I know. I know. I'm supposed to love this book more than I do. I've heard nothing but great things and have seen praises about this everywhere. It's even a Reese's Book Club selection and Book Expo Book Pick. The thing is, historical fiction is either a huge hit or a complete miss for me. This one kind of fell in the middle. I loved the way the chapter headings made it easy to follow whose POV we were now seeing. The story of the typists, spies and the true story of Doctor Zhivago and how this ba I know. I know. I'm supposed to love this book more than I do. I've heard nothing but great things and have seen praises about this everywhere. It's even a Reese's Book Club selection and Book Expo Book Pick. The thing is, historical fiction is either a huge hit or a complete miss for me. This one kind of fell in the middle. I loved the way the chapter headings made it easy to follow whose POV we were now seeing. The story of the typists, spies and the true story of Doctor Zhivago and how this banned book made it into the world is fascinating on their own. However, there is an abundant amount of characters and while the romances were interesting enough... all of these things together felt a bit disjointed and my interest started to fade very quickly after the first 100 pages. It could also be that *this* type of history, while I realize is pivotal in its own way as most historical events are, isn't particular to my taste of interest. I have no desire to read Doctor Zhivago. I think I expected a book about spies to contain more mystery and intrigue and less love story. Instead, it fell flat, was a bit repetitive in nature and would've read better had the focus been more centered rather than all over the place.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    The Secrets We Kept is the fascinating tale of how the CIA plotted to smuggle Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago out of Soviet Russia. Similar to the novel this storyline is told from different people's viewpoints. The most fascinating and intriguing section is that of author Boris Pasternak and his mistress, Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya who are separated as Soviet fears grow over the writing and later, the release of the book. I just fell into their story and Olga is such a fascinating woman. As t The Secrets We Kept is the fascinating tale of how the CIA plotted to smuggle Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago out of Soviet Russia. Similar to the novel this storyline is told from different people's viewpoints. The most fascinating and intriguing section is that of author Boris Pasternak and his mistress, Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya who are separated as Soviet fears grow over the writing and later, the release of the book. I just fell into their story and Olga is such a fascinating woman. As the story continues through the 1950s, I grew convinced she was just too good for Pasternak. Lara Prescott paints a picture of Soviet Russia that made me feel how terrified Olga and her children must have been as they are kept under the watchful eyes of the Soviet government. The other characters are new recruit, Irina Prozdhova, the Washington-based émigré daughter of a man murdered by the Russian regime and Sally Forrester, a seasoned CIA spy. Sally and Irina will have a love story that parallels that of the Zhivago novel. I can say that I expected the author was going to place them together but I am not quite sure I bought into the supposed passion Lastly, the collective voices, of all-knowing "typists" who work in the Soviet Russia division of the CIA. I suppose if there is a criticism, it is that the spy espionage aspect of the novel wasn't as strong as the doomed romantic elements that paralleled the storyline. All in all, I am thinking a re-read and a re-watch of the novel and film are definitely on my TBR for the 2021 year. Goodreads review published 11/01/21 Review also posted on Facebook and Instagram

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    The female typists of the Cold War often played much more important roles, and those are here alongside the story of the publication of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, and the surrounding intrigue. This was a far more complex read than I expected but very interesting and well-researched. This was in my eARC backlog; it actually came out in September and I'm behind. The female typists of the Cold War often played much more important roles, and those are here alongside the story of the publication of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, and the surrounding intrigue. This was a far more complex read than I expected but very interesting and well-researched. This was in my eARC backlog; it actually came out in September and I'm behind.

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