Doctor Zhivago niece Anna Pasternak sues author Lara Prescott for plagiarism

February 8, 2021

As a descendant of the author Boris Pasternak, Anna Pasternak may be well equipped to pass literary judgment.

The focus of her anger has been laid bare in a High Court plagiarism row in which Anna, the great niece of the author of Doctor Zhivago, has hit out at the “crass” love scenes in a book based on his love affair.

The film version of his most famous work made Julie Christie an international star and reinforced Omar Sharif’s status as a leading man. The romantic tale has become embroiled, however, in allegations that parts of a recent historical novel were lifted from an earlier non-fiction work.

Anna, author of the 2016 non-fiction work Lara: The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago, is also outraged by sex scenes in The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, published last year. She said that she turned at random to the pages of Prescott’s book and landed on a sex scene that included the line: “We came together like crashing boulders that echoed across Moscow.”

She told The Times yesterday: “That was enough. I couldn’t read any more.”

She has issued a court claim alleging that whole sections of her book about the love affair had been lifted. She said that if she won the claim at trial the ruling would provide welcome protection for non-fiction writers who often believe that their fiction counterparts pillage their work.

Pasternak, 53, has also accused Prescott’s publishers of trying to “bully me with expensive lawyers”. She is suing Prescott, 38, an American writer who was paid a $2 million advance for her fictionalised tale of how the CIA covertly smuggled copies of Doctor Zhivago into the Soviet Union after the communist regime banned the book. US agents printed a Russian language edition of the 1957 novel and distributed copies throughout the country.

In a battle that has been brewing since last year, Pasternak has issued proceedings in the High Court in which she alleges that “an astonishing number of substantial elements” of her version of the tragic love story between her great uncle and Olga Ivinskaya were copied by Prescott in her novel.

Ivinskaya was the inspiration for Lara, played by Christie in the 1965 film, after whom Prescott was named. In written submissions lodged with the High Court last month Pasternak claims that Prescott lifted paragraphs from her book without attribution.

She is also aggrieved that the American has promoted her novel as “the untold story” of Ivinskaya. “There are elements of her book that are architecturally identical to mine,” she said.

Publishers and authors will have a keen eye on the legal action, for which no date has been set, because it is to assess the nature of literary plagiarism. “This is not about money for me,” Pasternak said. “This is about the truth. Boris Pasternak would want me to bring this legal action. He was a man of granite courage: he took on the Soviet regime . . . These bullies have to be stood up to.”

A spokeswoman for Penguin Random House said: “Ms Pasternak has elected to bring and pursue these proceedings in the full knowledge that they would be defended by Ms Prescott and her publisher, both of whom consider the claim to be unfounded and entirely without merit.”

She added: “The claim will continue to be defended. Given that proceedings are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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