Literary rival stole my story, says relative of Doctor Zhivago author

June 9, 2022
Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in the 1965 film Dr Zhivago. Christie’s character Lara was based on Olga Ivinskaya, who had a relationship with the author Boris Pasternak
MGM/KOBAL/REX FEATURES/SHUTTERSTOCK

The great-niece of Boris Pasternak has told the High Court that she felt like a victim of “identity theft” after reading passages of another woman’s book about the Doctor Zhivago author.

Anna Pasternak, 54, has alleged that whole sections of her 2016 non-fiction book — Lara: The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago — were lifted by Lara Prescott, an American author, for her novel The Secrets We Kept, which was published in 2019.

Both books are about the relationship between Boris Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya, who inspired the character Lara Antipova, played by Julie Christie in the 1965 film of Doctor Zhivago.

In written submissions at a pretrial hearing, Pasternak, who is British, said that in 2019 she and her husband had attended a drinks party hosted by Prescott’s publishers. She described Prescott and her agent as being “friendly” and “delightful”. Pasternak alleged that at the party Prescott told her that she had a copy of Lara and added: “I based the love story of Boris and Olga on your book.”

Pasternak claimed that she and her husband “remember this vividly. I was astonished at how forthcoming Ms Prescott was about this”. She said that she was “angered — and hurt — by [Prescott’s] duplicity. She had told me in person that she had ‘based the love story between Olga and Boris on my book’ and yet was not properly acknowledging this amongst her sources for the book and was claiming to have uncovered the untold love story herself.”

Pasternak added: “It felt like identity theft. A work that had taken me over two decades, which felt part of my DNA and family heritage, was being usurped by Ms Prescott.” The court also heard that Pasternak was offended by Prescott’s writing style and the tone of her novel. “The worst aspect, for me,” she said, “was the poor prose, which I felt offended by on Boris Pasternak’s behalf. These were my genuine emotional responses.”

Pasternak has previously criticised the book. She said that she had turned the pages at random and landed on a sex scene that included the line: “We came together like crashing boulders that echoed across Moscow.” Last year Pasternak told The Times: “That was enough. I couldn’t read any more.”

Prescott was paid a $2 million advance for her fictionalised tale of how the CIA smuggled copies of Doctor Zhivago into the USSR after the communist regime banned the 1957 book.

Pasternak has alleged that “an astonishing number of substantial elements” of her version of the love story between her great-uncle and Ivinskaya were copied by Prescott. She has also accused Prescott’s publishers of trying to “bully me with expensive lawyers”.

The full trial is scheduled to start on July 4. Penguin Random House, the publisher of Prescott’s book, has said that the allegations are “unfounded” and that the claim is being defended.