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The Secrets We Kept

by Lara Prescott

Modern and Contemporary Fiction Historical fiction Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel Debut Books of the Month Debuts Star Books Literary Fiction

LoveReading Expert Review of The Secrets We Kept

A truly fabulous and mesmerising debut set during the Cold War, with a story that spins from spies to a literary sensation.

Gosh, this is an absolute treat of a debut novel, so different, so compelling, so fabulously readable! Circling a past that isn’t actually that long ago, the Cold War battle between the USA and USSR intertwines with the background tale to the novel that became Doctor Zhivago. The prologue wonderfully and thoroughly sets the scene. The story spins and spins again, and as several tales are told from different perspectives, we hear from an unknown voice in the typing pool, from a muse, from a carrier… Women take centre stage, even when in a supportive role. Lara Prescott kept my attention as taut as razor wire throughout, the words ganging up to give my thoughts little shoves. I have been left with a thirst for more information about the history of this time, yet thoroughly satisfied by the tale on offer. The Secrets We Kept is many things, spy story, love story, cold war story, it is also an eloquent, surprising read and highly recommended.

Liz Robinson

The Secrets We Kept Synopsis

Two female spies. A banned masterpiece. A book that changed history.

A BANNED MASTERPIECE 1956.

A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.

But in the rest of the world it's fast becoming a sensation.

TWO FEMALE SPIES

The CIA plans to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.

Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists - the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina - are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago back into Russia by any means necessary.

A BOOK THAT CHANGED HISTORY

It will not be easy. There are people willing to die for this book - and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail - as this book has the power to change history. 

About This Edition

ISBN: 9781786331663
Publication date: 5th September 2019
Author: Lara Prescott
Publisher: Hutchinson an imprint of Cornerstone
Format: Hardback
Collections: Around the World in 80+ Historical Novels.,
Primary Genre Historical fiction
Other Genres:
Recommendations:
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The Secrets We Kept Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

Entrancing, intriguing, fascinating glimpse into the side of writing and publishing which is not normally thought about.

Entrancing, intriguing, fascinating glimpse into the side of writing and publishing which is not normally thought about. The perils which went with anyone trying to write, in a country that makes a very thorough job of controlling what you can and cannot do, never mind the danger when someone else suggests the book be published. The compulsive urge to write, despite the knowledge that that same writing could mean imprisonment, ran the risk of being transferred for a long unspecified time to a labour camp, or even torture and death.
An insight into the secret jobs held by “innocent typists” whilst they delivered and collected all the bits necessary to get a forbidden book delivered to one place, translated and then delivered somewhere else – even the risks run by those who did the actual translations.
All of this in an easy to read book, where virtually every page tells you something new – how to be invisible, totally unnoticeable, or even very noticeable when and where necessary.

Elizabeth Anne Rhodes

Doctor Zhivago - a romantic, moving, epic film and book. I didn't know until I read this fascinating and engaging novel that the background story is so amazing and powerful.

Doctor Zhivago - a romantic, moving, epic film and book. I didn't know until I read this fascinating and engaging novel that the background story is so amazing and powerful.

In the 1950s Pasternak's book was banned in Russia, smuggled out to be published in other countries and then copies were secretly sent back to Russia with the aim of stirring up dissent. This brilliant debut novel by Lara Prescott uses several different voices to tell the story. The most moving perhaps is that of Olga, Boris Pasternak's lover and muse, who suffers so much at the hands of those who want to prevent Pasternak from writing and publishing. The American side of the story is told by the women who are typists in the CIA and in particular by Sally and Irina who become involved with the banned book as messengers and carriers.

I liked everything about this book - finding out about the story behind the masterpiece and about Russia in the 1950s, the period detail, the love stories, the empathy with the characters both the real and the imagined ones, and the style in which it is written. And last but certainly not least the idea that a book can have the power to change history and the world.

Ann Peet

Beautiful, exciting, daring, The Secret's we Kept is all of these things and more. What makes this book unique is that the spies are female. Doctor Zhivago was a book that had to be published, and if that meant publishing in a different country and having it smuggled back, so be it. Lara Prescott has written a beautiful novel that will sweep it's readers to Russia and America, leaving them breathless.

Doctor Zhivago, the love story set in Russia, even the title sounds magical, (well to me, a hopeless romantic) was once thought to be a dangerous weapon, yes you heard me, a weapon that could set off a revolt, East against West, so getting it published was a danger in its self.
Lara Prescott has written a beautiful novel that wraps its covers around the reader, like a lover holding you in his or her arms.
A group of typist have been enlisted to type out the book, which will then be printed, bound in blue linen covers, ready for the World Fair of 1958, so visiting Soviets could smuggle it back.
This isn't just about the book, it's also about the loved and lives of the strong women who made it possible, and Boris the author and his muse Olga (Lara in the movie.
If like me you have seen the film and it read the book, (I now have to re-read it) you will see it in a different light, how one book that is now in the Russian school curriculum, changed so many lives. So if you love a good spy novel and a love story, this is for you. It's beautiful, sad and so romantic, and I am so pleased that I got to read it, before publication.

Angie Rhodes

In 1950's Russia free speech is repressed. In the USA, agents are recruited to fight Communism. The publication of Dr. Zhivago could change the course of world history.

Olga is Boris Pasternak’s editor, agent and current mistress. Her lover, the popular and successful Russian poet, is writing Dr. Zhivago, a novel he fears will never receive State approval, necessary for publication. On the other side of The Iron Curtain, Irina, daughter of Russian refugee mother, takes a job in the CIA typing pool. Soon she is also employed in covert operations which she comes to enjoy. Secrecy suits her.
The two women never meet but the way their lives are interlinked forms the framework of this complex and interesting story. Both Irina and Olga will play their part to ensure Pasternak’s novel is published, both suffer for the secrets they keep, both have to accept sacrifices. In the sweep of world history, each woman finds herself playing a series of roles, sometimes the same ones in differing settings.
For this is a novel about roles, about secrecy and deceit. Along the way, the Cold War is skillfully evoked and the players in the drama vividly depicted.
Appearing at regular intervals are The Typists, like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, reflecting and commenting on the narrative.
There are challenges for the reader – the mixture of real and invented characters, first-person narratives from a large cast of characters and an interlocking timescale – but the effort is more than worthwhile.

Heather Shaw

Fascinating and compelling, great narrative with brilliant use of multiple perspectives, all slowly drawing together to reveal the full story.

A fascinating and compelling read about the people who brought Boris Pasternak's famous novel Doctor Zhivago, to print in the 1950s, despite it being banned at the time in Soviet Russia. With multiple narrators, this fictional telling of real events is vivid and believable. As it switched between the perspectives of many people, including a typist at the CIA, a spy and Pasternak's mistress, I was totally drawn into the story and interested in every little detail of what was happening. The changing narrators was a great way of showing lots of viewpoints and ensuring that a complete picture was formed. Having the focus change between Russia and America was also very effective. There was so much detail throughout, which helped me to fully engage and get drawn into the world and that time period. Characters were very well written and all likeable and relatable; even when I disagreed with them, I could understand their motivation and purpose. Plus there was enough intrigue to keep me reading and wondering how and what would happen next, even though I knew that Doctor Zhivago, was of course published! Now I'm feeling inspired to finally get around to reading Doctor Zhivago, which has been on my to-read list for many years!

Sarah Jones

Lara Prescott has written a beautiful novel that wraps its covers around the reader, like a lover holding you in his or her arms.

Doctor Zhivago, the love story set in Russia, even the title sounds magical, (well to me a hopeless romantic) was once thought to be a dangerous weapon, yes you heard me, a weapon that could set off a revolt, East against West, so getting it published was a danger in its self.
Lara Prescott has written a beautiful novel that wraps its covers around the reader, like a lover holding you in his or her arms.
A group of typist has been enlisted to type out the book, which will then be printed, bound in blue linen covers, ready for the World Fair of 1958, for visiting Soviets could smuggle it back.
This isn't just about the book, it's also about the loved and lives of the strong women who made it possible, and Boris the author and his muse Olga (Lara in the movie.
If like me you have seen the film and read the book, (I now have to re-read it) you will see it in a different light, how one book that is now in the Russian school curriculum, changed so many lives. So if you love a good spy novel and a love story, this is for you. It's beautiful, sad and so romantic, and I am so pleased that I got to read it. 

Angie Rhodes

A gripping spy novel about the lives and loves of the courageous people who smuggled the literary masterpiece 'Doctor Zhivago' back into Russia during the Cold War.

Having read the excellent book 'Lara' by Anna Pasternak, I was interested to compare how Lara Prescott tackled the events surrounding the publication of 'Doctor Zhivago'. It proved to be a very enjoyable read and certainly enhanced my understanding of the Cold War!

This story focuses on how the banned Russian masterpiece is smuggled into America and is then disseminated by two female typists, Irina and Sally, who are working for the CIA. We follow the plot's twists and turns from the differing perspectives of the Typists and Carriers in the West, and Boris Pasternak and those close to him in the East, as they try to get the book back into Russia by passing it to Soviets visiting America. The suspense mounts as we are made all too aware of the grave personal risks those involved take and we live their experiences with them. Interlaced with the action are two powerful love stories. Firstly, that between Boris Pasternak himself and Olga who is both his lover and the muse for 'Doctor Zhivago 'and, secondly, the forbidden love between Sally and Irina which brings a special poignancy to the story. Once the scene has been set, the plot moves at a fast pace and I was completely engrossed from beginning to end.

Susan Coleman

A fascinating story, which had me hooked from start to finish.

This fascinating novel, set in the late 50s and early 60s, tells two stories- the story of Boris Pasternak and his lover and muse, Olga, and the effort made by the CIA to introduce the book to the west and ultimately back to the Soviet Union where it was banned. This part of the story is told from the point of view of the CIA typists, when two of their number are recruited to become spies and smuggle the novel back to the USSR.
The story constantly shifts from Washington to Soviet Russia. Both are beautifully described and the sense of history is very evocative and full of period detail.
We tend to forget that Dr. Zhivago is a relatively modern novel, and the story of Boris Pasternak and Olga is particularly poignant. There is a sharp contrast between the lives of the American characters and the harshness experienced by Olga in particular, who is sent to a gulag to try to force Pasternak from finishing his book.
I enjoyed the book very much. It goes from being a moving love story to a spy thriller, and will make a very good film!

Evelyn Love-Gajardo

Can a novel bring about change? Read on... The story was a fascinating blend of fiction and possible fact. The writing was top quality and draws the reader in. My first read by this author and I look forward to more.

This was not my usual type of reading. Set in the 1950's it was the attempt of the USA to smuggle out Boris Pasternak's novel out of the USSR, print and smuggle back into the USSR.
It's a novel that is multi-faceted. Telling of the cold war, the mistreatment of women and that both societies; the USSR and the so-called west are at heart both dominated by men. Where women are there for men's pleasure and are supposed to do as they are told.
The story was a fascinating blend of fiction and possible fact. The writing was top quality and draws the reader in. My first read by this author and I look forward to more. 
It was refreshing to read a book with no references to modern technology; Eg. mobile phone or personal computers.

alfred nobile

A fascinating insight into the lives of women in the US in the fifties trying to get on in Washington. Their part in getting Pasternak's novel "Doctor Zhivago' into the hands of a waiting world was the highlight for me.

The secrets we kept by Lara Prescott is a historical fiction about a well-known twentieth century figure, Boris Pasternak. How his famous novel ‘Doctor Zhivago’ came to be published, the people involved and the lasting effects on those around him. It also deals with a group of women working for the secret agencies of the US government. And it is their story that I found much more interesting. I didn’t like Pasternak or his lover Olga. They were self- absorbed individuals who ruined the lives of those around them. But the young women of the agencies were fascinating. Especially the love story between two of the women. Sadly this was the fifties and a lesbian love story was never going to be easy. I enjoyed the way the author used first person accounts of a multitude of different characters. It worked very well. She also has a beautifully vivid writing style that appealed to me. I found the descriptions of life for women at that time very revealing. Being better than the men didn't matter. They were frozen out of the top jobs and disregarded. A very impressive novel.

Karen McIntosh

Prescott writes clear and neat prose and the story skips along despite jumping from country to country.

For the highly educated women working in the department the typing pool was the only opportunity they'd get to use their skills and intelligence but for the lucky few there was more. Irina was one of the lucky ones, groomed as a carrier she was included in a mission to send a novel behind the Iron Curtain. The novel was 'Doctor Zhivago' and it was banned in Russia due to seditious content. As Pasternak's lover and muse Olga had suffered for her love, sent to the Gulags for three years she still returned to Pasternak on her release even though she knew that 'Doctor Zhivago' could cause major problems.
This is the story of women on each side of the Iron Curtain in the late 1950s, all of them suppressed because of their sex but with the intelligence and independence to try to fight it. I loved this book because it told a powerful story of women in their many guises and the way that women work together to change the world. The only slight negative for me was the love story between Irina and Sally, it felt one step too far and muddying a clear narrative although it provide the plot incentive for Sally's subsequent actions, however that it to caste a small aspersion on a great book. It is period perfect with clever detailing both of life in Moscow and the dachas but also in Washington. Prescott writes clear and neat prose and the story skips along despite jumping from country to country. Pasternak himself is almost and aside and yet his writing is central to the entire story - this is sophisticated and mature plotting.

Jo-anne Atkinson

A brilliant story about the East and The West and the Cold War.

This was a thrilling read, so much so that I intend to re-read it in a month or two, which is something I rarely do.

The book is set in the East and in the West, hence the different sections within the book, and each section contains several chapters relating to what is happening the the people in those areas. The West - the Americans, the typing pool, two spies and their colleagues, the East, the author of Dr Zhivago (Boris Pasternak) and his Muse, Olga, Olga's family and Boris' wife.

It is brilliantly written and held my interest to the end. A few unanswered questions are left at the end, however, the answers are there within the book if you have paid attention!

Alison Bisping

I'm off to the library to read Doctor Zhivago.

This is a novel about another epic novel. Even we all know the end -as - the characters harrowing journey keeps you turn the pages until the small hours. The simple language made this an easy, enjoyable read despite the tragic plot. The writing has a poetic and sensitive quality to it much like Zhivago`s world. The story intrigued me as I was born in the Eastern Bloc. You rarely read about the other side of the story. I've never actually read Doctor Zhivago, vaguely remember the movie, but it doesn't matter. While immersed into the story it felt like I was one of the typist girls. I was impressed with Lara Prescott's historic research because all the while the narrative remained accurate and insightful. I can't wait to share the book with others.

Tunde Toth

Lara Prescott Press Reviews

What a fantastic novel The Secrets We Kept is. Thrilling, seductive and thoroughly compelling - Lara has created something really special. And it's made me want to re-read Doctor Zhivago! I absolutely loved it! - Sarah Winman, author of TIN MAN

How does Lara Prescott manage to do so much in one book? The Secrets We Kept is stylish, thrilling, smart, vivid, at once intimate and sweeping, dreamlike and true-to-life, with an unforgettable cast and story. This is a riveting novel about a riveting novel, a love story to love stories. -- ELIZABETH MCCRACKEN As lively and vivid a novel as even the most demanding reader could wish for: epic in scope, deliciously meaty with its wide array of characters and milieux, and utterly convincing in its treatment of Cold War espionage and intrigue. This marvelous novel reads like the work of a mid-career master; what a wonderful surprise, then, to realize it's the opening salvo from a supremely gifted debut novelist. Lara Prescott is the real deal, and the evidence is right here on every page. -- BEN FOUNTAIN Well-researched and cleverly constructed... An intriguing and little-known chapter of literary history is brought to life with brio. - Kirkus (starred review)

I was riveted by Lara Prescott's new novel. I barely stirred from my chair for two days. How does one even begin to talk about this book? It's all here-the KGB versus the CIA, the sexual office politics of Mad Men, a horrifying new look at the gulag, the tragic love affair between Boris Pasternak and his mistress, a brilliantly-drawn portrait of a time when a single book had the power to change history. I predict that The Secrets We Kept will be one of the most important books of 2020. -- JAMES MAGNUSON -

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781786090744
Publication date: 19/03/2020
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781786331663
Publication date: 05/09/2019
Format: Hardback

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About Lara Prescott

Lara Prescott was named after the heroine of Doctor Zhivago and first discovered the true story behind the novel after the CIA declassified 99 documents pertaining to its role in the book's publication and covert dissemination. She travelled the world - from Moscow and Washington, to London and Paris - in the course of her research, becoming particularly interested in political repression in both the Soviet Union and United States and how, during the Cold War, both countries used literature as a weapon. Lara earned her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband.

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