The Writer and the Valet - Boris Pasternak: Dr Zhivago
was on his honeymoon – he married late – when he first read Dr Zhivago. It was the evening of Saturday, 18 August 1956, and he had just made the short journey back to Moscow from the village of Peredelkino, where he had spent the day with Boris Pasternak. Pasternak’s dacha was part of a complex set up on Stalin’s orders in 1934 to reward the Soviet Union’s most prominent writers. One of them, Korney Chukovsky, described the scheme as ‘entrapping writers within a cocoon of comforts, surrounding them with a network of spies’. Periodically, and usually at night, the NKVD would turn over a dacha and bundle its resident into a waiting car. Pasternak’s immediate neighbour and friend, Boris Pilnyak, was arrested in October 1937, removed to the Lubyanka, and killed with a single bullet to the back of the head. The same fate awaited Isaac Babel, who was taken from Peredelkino in May 1939. There were others, less well known, but equals in the manner of their death.