Between the end of World War II and President Ronald Reagan’s stern warning to the Soviet Union — Mr. Gorbochev, tear down this wall — was a period of fear of communism and secrets about weapons and rocket ships and likely a lot of misunderstanding, not only by the people in power, but by the common folk like you and me. This frightening environment was no more obvious than in the 1950s, when the so-called Red Scare was at its most pronounced.
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott, is the story of plain ol’ ordinary women who by both chance and circumstance became spies. Or, if not spies, at least secret-keepers. After all, while the men in power dictated the memos, they were the ones who typed them.
But another thing that transpired in the early 1950s was that a man named Boris Pasternak finished the novel on which he had been working for many years. It was called Dr. Zhivago. And it was the bane of the Soviet Unions leadership’s existence. They would do almost anything to prevent this so-called subversive propaganda from being released.
It is this scenario which resulted in Irina — a quiet, nondescript woman whose mother came from Russia, and Sally — a beautiful if disarming and strong-willed woman, being pulled from the clerical pool to assist in secretly bringing this novel to the United States to be published.
At the same time, Pasterak’s long-time mistress Olga, the model for Lara in Dr. Zhivago, fights her own battle to help with the cause, including many long years in a Soviet prison.
The Secrets We Kept is a novel of espionage, but it is also a novel of 1950s sexism, love, friendship, and the power of the written word. Based on a true story, the author’s descriptions of this time in our history, and the role the book played, is powerful. I loved the book.