Zhivago’s great passion inspires plagiarism row | News | The Sunday Times

Here’s a bit of upsetting news. The Sunday Times (paywall) reports that Anna Pasternak, the author of Lara, a biography of Olga Ivinskaya, has accused Lara Prescott of plagiarism. Lara Prescott is the author of the recently published novel The Secrets We Kept that in fictional form follows the story of Olga Ivinskaya. Lara Prescott’s publisher is standing by her, and we will follow the story of the legal complaint as it develops, but I feel that the situation is unfortunate on many levels.

The story of Olga Ivinskaya, who was Boris Pasternak’s partner at the end of his life and through the writing of Doctor Zhivago, continues to fascinate writers and readers of Pasternak’s novel, in particular, for its parallels to that of Lara, the character of Pasternak’s novel. Olga Ivinskaya has told her story herself, in her memoir A Captive of Time that was translated to English by Max Hayward and published by HarperCollins in 1979, and there have been a number of retellings since then (not all of them translated to English).

Penguin Random House pointed out that the story of Olga Ivinskaya has been the subject of multiple books before Anna Pasternak’s, including Ivinskaya’s 1978 autobiography, a book by her daughter Irina Emelyanova, and Peter Finn and Petra Couvee’s 2014 book The Zhivago Affair.


One of the reasons I find the legal complaint unfortunate is because it carries on the notes of scandal and sensationalism, associated with Doctor Zhivago from the beginning. I fear that the book and the nuance of the stories of the women behind it get lost in the fray.

On the other hand, given this interest to her story, I do hope that Olga Ivinskaya’s book might see a new English-language edition. And, perhaps, an enterprising English-language writer will take up Zinaida Pasternak’s story. If we’re writing the story of the affair, Zinaida’s side of it is no less captivating than Olga’s.