The first edition in Russian after the Nobel Prize award


Doktor Zhivago

[Doctor Zhivago]

Publication: The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1959.

PASTERNAK, Boris, Doktor Zhivago

First printing of the first “legal” Russian edition of this famous Nobel Prize winner. A lovely copy of Pasternak’s masterpiece.

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The first legal Russian edition of the famous novel, by “one of the great modern masters of Russian literature” (Terras). A lovely copy of the first printing.

Pasternak considered Doktor Zhivago his magnum opus, and confident that it would not appear in print in his homeland, he managed to submit one of his manuscripts to the Milan publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in May 1956. Despite persistent attempts by the Soviet government and the Italian Communist party to prevent the publication, Feltrinelli issued the novel in Italian in November 1957. An immediate bestseller, it was translated into 24 languages within two years; in October 1958 Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize “for his significant contribution to modern literature and to the great tradition of Russian prose”.

The history of the novel’s publication in Russian is however peculiarly tangled and some confusion often reigns in the sequence of the earliest Russian editions: all appeared within less than one year. The CIA illegally printed the novel in Russian in order to distribute it to the Soviet delegation at the World Fair in Brussels in September-October 1958. The operation however almost failed because of the CIA’s publishing partner Felix Morrow, a publisher and a former opera singer, who “had made a very New York journey from Communist to Trotskyite to willing Cold Warrior for the CIA” (Finn and Couvée, here and below).

In June 1958, Morrow was requested to prepare the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago for publication and to investigate where it could be printed in Europe: the involvement of the US had to be concealed. A few weeks later, the CIA discovered that Morrow not only did not succeed in finding any European publishers but discussed the secret operation with outsiders, including the University of Michigan director Fred Wieck with whom he made arrangements to publish the book in the US. The CIA warned the University of Michigan Press about Feltrinelli’s imminent lawsuits to “anyone publishing the book in Russian” but received the University’s lawyers’ response that “no one held the rights to the Russian-language edition of the novel for the United States because there was no treaty with the Soviet Union of copyright”.

The present Michigan edition of Doctor Zhivago therefore had all the chances to be the very first Russian edition of the famous novel. The CIA and the Soviet Russia Division however managed to convince the president of the University, Harlan Hatcher, to wait until the novel appears in Europe because of “the important factors of protecting liaison services with other agencies involved”, the greater “psychological impact upon Soviet readers” if the work comes out in Europe, and moreover, Pasternak’s personal request to not publish the novel in the US for his own safety. The first Russian edition, sponsored by the CIA, was published at Mouton Press in The Hague with Feltrinelli’s fake imprint in early September 1958.

Unaware of the CIA-Mouton operation, Feltrinelli was furious and ready to start a legal trial but soon was able to settle the case. Shortly after, he faced another challenge: in October 1958, the University of Michigan Press announced the preparation of its edition of Doctor Zhivago. Feltrinelli, who “believed he had exclusive world rights to the novel, including in Russian, because the novel was not published in the Soviet Union”, attempted to ban this publication as well. The University responded that they “were extending a service to students and scholars by refusing to be bound by Feltrinelli’s effort to ‘extend worldwide censorship of the Soviet writers’ union'”. The University however agreed to compromise and secured a licence for Michigan from Feltrinelli; in January 1959 this first legal Russian edition (based on the CIA proof obtained from Morrow) was published in Ann Arbour, Michigan. Although Feltrinelli rushed to publish his first Russian edition before Michigan, it only came out two months later, in March 1959, followed by another CIA-backed edition, this time in small format, printed in May 1959 in Washington DC with an imprint of a nonexistent publisher “Société d’Edition et d’Impression Mondiale” in Paris.


Mrs. Waldemar Brockert (Melitta Brockert (1922-2022), an American pianist, born in Kyiv and moved to the United States in 1951 as a World War II refugee; ownership label on upper flyleaf).


Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, Pantheon Books, 2014.

Victor Terras, Handbook of Russian Literature, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991, pp. 330-333.

Nadezhda Biriukova, “Prikliuchenie rukopisi ‘Doktora Zhivago'” // “Doktor Zhivago” Borisa Pasternaka, Arzamas academy, 2015.

Item number



Physical Description

Octavo (21.4 x 14 cm). Half-title, title, 567 pp. incl. t.o.c.


Publisher’s ochre boards, gilt lettering on spine.


Spine ends minimally rubbed and soiled, occasional small and light staining on boards; very fresh internally.

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