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The Secrets We Kept
Cover of The Secrets We Kept
The Secrets We Kept
A Novel
A HELLO SUNSHINE x REESE WITHERSPOON BOOK CLUB PICK
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.
This audiobook features performances by Mozhan Marno as Olga, Carlotta Brentan as Irina, Cynthia Farrell as Sally, Saskia Maarleveld as The Typists, Jonathan Davis as Boris, David Pittu as Sergio, and James Fouhey as Teddy.
A HELLO SUNSHINE x REESE WITHERSPOON BOOK CLUB PICK
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.
This audiobook features performances by Mozhan Marno as Olga, Carlotta Brentan as Irina, Cynthia Farrell as Sally, Saskia Maarleveld as The Typists, Jonathan Davis as Boris, David Pittu as Sergio, and James Fouhey as Teddy.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover Prologue

    The Typists


    We typed a hundred words per minute and never missed a syllable. Our identical desks were each equipped with a mint-shelled Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter, a black Western Electric rotary phone, and a stack of yellow steno pads. Our fingers flew across the keys. Our clacking was constant. We'd pause only to answer the phone or to take a drag of a cigarette; some of us managed to master both without missing a beat.

    The men would arrive around ten. One by one, they'd pull us into their offices. We'd sit in small chairs pushed into the corners while they'd sit behind their large mahogany desks or pace the carpet while speaking to the ceiling. We'd listen. We'd record. We were their audience of one for their memos, reports, write-ups, lunch orders. Sometimes they'd forget we were there and we'd learn much more: who was trying to box out whom, who was making a power play, who was having an affair, who was in and who was out.

    Sometimes they'd refer to us not by name but by hair color or body type: Blondie, Red, Tits. We had our secret names for them, too: Grabber, Coffee Breath, Teeth.

    They would call us girls, but we were not.

    We came to the Agency by way of Radcliffe, Vassar, Smith. We were the first daughters of our families to earn degrees. Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly planes. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when inter­viewed was "Can you type?"

    It's been said that the typewriter was built for women—that to truly make the keys sing requires the feminine touch, that our narrow fingers are suited for the device, that while men lay claim to cars and bombs and rockets, the typewriter is a machine of our own.

    Well, we don't know about all that. But what we will say is that as we typed, our fingers became extensions of our brains, with no delay between the words coming out of their mouths—words they told us not to remember—and our keys slapping ink onto paper. And when you think about it like that, about the mechanics of it all, it's almost poetic. Almost.

    But did we aspire to tension headaches and sore wrists and bad posture? Is it what we dreamed of in high school, when studying twice as hard as the boys? Was clerical work what we had in mind when opening the fat manila envelopes containing our college accep­tance letters? Or where we thought we'd be headed as we sat in those white wooden chairs on the fifty-yard line, capped and gowned, receiving the rolled parchments that promised we were qualified to do so much more?

    Most of us viewed the job in the typing pool as temporary. We wouldn't admit it aloud—not even to each other—but many of us believed it would be a first rung toward achieving what the men got right out of college: positions as officers; our own offices with lamps that gave off a flattering light, plush rugs, wooden desks; our own typists taking down our dictation. We thought of it as a beginning, not an end, despite what we'd been told all our lives.

    Other women came to the Agency not to start their careers but to round them out. Leftovers from the OSS, where they'd been legends during the war, they'd become relics relegated to the typing pool or the records department or some desk in some corner with nothing to do.

    There was Betty. During the war, she ran black ops, striking blows at opposition morale by planting newspaper articles and dropping propaganda flyers from airplanes. We'd heard she once provided dynamite to a man who blew up a resource train as it passed over a bridge somewhere in Burma. We could never be sure...
About the Author-
  • LARA PRESCOTT recently received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin. She was previously an animal protection advocate and a political campaign operative. Her stories have appeared in The Southern Review, The Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, Day One, and Tin House Flash Fridays. She won the 2016 Crazyhorse Fiction Prize for the first chapter of The Secrets We Kept. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 1, 2019
    Prescott’s triumphant debut offers a fresh perspective on women employed by the CIA during the 1950s and their role in disseminating into the Soviet Union copies of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak’s banned masterpiece. In 1956, American-born Irina Drozdova gets a job at the CIA ostensibly as a typist but is destined for fieldwork. Former OSS agent Sally Forrester trains Irina in spycraft. Meanwhile, inside the Soviet Union, Boris Pasternak’s lover, Olga Vsevolodovna, is interrogated about Pasternak’s work in progress, Dr. Zhivago. After three years in a prison camp, she reunites with Pasternak, who, unable to publish in the Soviet Union, entrusts his novel to an Italian publisher’s representative. Back in Washington, Irina, now engaged to a male agent but in love with Sally, seeks assignment overseas. Dressed as a nun, she places copies of Dr. Zhivago, printed in the original Russian for the CIA, into the hands of Soviet citizens visiting the Vienna World’s Fair. Through lucid images and vibrant storytelling, Prescott creates an edgy postfeminist vision of the Cold War, encompassing Sputnik to glasnost, typing pool to gulag, for a smart, lively page-turner. This debut shines as spy story, publication thriller, and historical romance with a twist. 200,000-copy announced first printing.

  • AudioFile Magazine This ensemble performance of Laura Prescott's novel, told from multiple points of view, reimagines from a female perspective one of the great Cold War coups--the smuggling into the West and publication in 1958 of Boris Pasternak's DR. ZHIVAGO. In Washington, the narrators include "The Typists" at CIA headquarters, a young Russian-speaking agent, and a glamorous senior agent suspected of homosexuality. In Russia, the voice is Olga's, Zhivago's Lara, whose sufferings parallel and illuminate the fate of each character in the story. The novel's interacting themes and parallels are wonderfully captured by the accomplished cast, who render these voices with such spirit and comprehension. One caution: The author doesn't identify the narrator of new chapters; it helps to repeat the first quarter minute or so. D.A.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine
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The Secrets We Kept
A Novel
Lara Prescott
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