Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Review: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Title: The Secrets We Kept
Author: Lara Prescott
Published: September 2019, Knopf Publishing Group
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher

A thrilling tale of secretaries turned spies, of love and duty, and of 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.

The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story—the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the Gulag and inspired Zhivago's heroine, Lara—with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. From Pasternak's country estate outside Moscow to the brutalities of the Gulag, from Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, The Secrets We Kept captures a watershed moment in the history of literature—told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail. And at the center of this unforgettable debut is the powerful belief that a piece of art can change the world.

My thoughts: I was fortunate to pick this book up last Spring during BookExpo. It was one of the books featured during the Adult Editor's Buzz Panel and one that I was most excited to pick up. There was a lot of buzz around it back then and that excitement has only grown, especially now that Reese Witherspoon has just announced that this book is her September book club pick. This book is definitely worth all the hype it is getting and then some!

I must first admit that I have never seen or read Doctor Zhivago...but I don't think that this in any way detracted from my enjoyment of this book. In fact, not knowing that story made me all the more curious as to how that part of the story plays out because I honestly did not know. I didn't know the history surrounding the publication of the book. It was all new to me and I loved every minute of it. And now, I definitely have the movie at the top of my priority list!

This book captured my attention from the get-go and never let up. I loved how the book moved back and forth from the East to the West. In the East, we meet Boris and Olga, his lover and muse, and we learn all about his desperation to write a masterpiece about the cultural revolution happening in his country. In the West, we meet the typists of the CIA. Pulled out of the typing pool, Sally and Irina are given the mission of smuggling the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago back into the USSR and to help it make its way around the world. 

Usually when a book moves back and forth like this with two different story lines, one tends to be stronger than the other or hold more interest, but that was absolutely not the case this time. I felt both were equally strong and both captured my interest the entire time. I was equally invested in both story lines, wanting to know what was next for all the characters involved. And I loved how at the start of each chapter, the original code name for the character would be crossed out and a new name would appear, depending on what was happening...I thought this was quite clever!

I read this book in two sittings - I just couldn't put it down! I absolutely loved it and will definitely be recommending it to everyone. And I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Lara Prescott - as a debut novel, this one was phenomenal!!! 


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