Book review: Secrets We Kept

18 Dec 2019 / 13:14 H.

By K.K.Wong

Doctor Zhivago is a masterpiece published in 1957 by the most famous poet in the Soviet Union, Boris Pasternak.

Written in the form of a diary, it is a novel that spans three quarters of a century, ending with World War II. The contents were considered to be dangerous, and having the potential to spark dissent in the Soviet Union.

Naturally, the Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, banned it – even before it was completed. But it is also a matter of time before news of the book leaks to the rest of the world.

Described as the most heretical literary work by a Soviet author since Stalin’s death, it had great propaganda value for its passive but piercing exposition of the effect of the Soviet system on the life of a sensitive, intelligent citizen.

In other words, a perfect weapon for the CIA to tip the Cold War in its favour.

But first, the CIA must smuggle the finished manuscript out of Russia, and smuggle the published books back into Russia by any means necessary.

The Secrets We Kept follows the trial of the spies who were entrusted with this mission, and reveals the consequences faced by the author and those close to him because of the book.

The ‘spies’ are two typists – the charming Sally and the talented novice Irina. There are no shootouts or heart-stopping car chases. Nor are there any gripping moments that take your breath away.

Instead, interspersed with the sometimes tedious work of spying, you read about love stories and human nature and life in all its glory and ugly ways.

The story begins around the typing pool in the CIA and the narration, in the form of the first person, jumps from one character to another.

It can be a tad confusing, and it is not until you get to the middle of the story that things click into place, and it gets interesting.

A good first novel from Lara Prescott.

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