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Cover for The Secrets We Kept by Lara PrescottThe Secrets We Kept

by Lara Prescott

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Cold War

Secrets abound in this expertly crafted spy novel. Boris Pasternak has just finished his literary masterpiece Dr. Zhivago, but the manuscript must be smuggled out of the Soviet Union in order to be published. Two CIA secretaries, Sally Forrester and Irina Drozdova, are assigned to the dangerous mission. The two stories intertwine to create a fascinating narrative about a little known operation during the Cold War.

Discussion Guide

Headshot of Lara Prescott Author Biography

Lara Prescott is a New York Times bestselling author whose work has been translated into over 30 languages.

Lara received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. Her debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, was an instant NYT bestseller, a Hello Sunshine x Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, an Edgar Award nominee for Best First Fiction, winner of the 2020 Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery, and winner of 2019 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award in Fiction. It is being adapted for television by The Ink Factory and Marc Platt Productions. She lives in coastal New Hampshire with her family. - Author's website

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Kirkus Reviews

/* Starred Review */ Inspired by the true story of the role of Dr. Zhivago in the Cold War: a novel of espionage in the West, resistance in the East, and grand passions on both sides. "We typed a hundred words a minute and never missed a syllable… 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." Prescott's debut features three individual heroines and one collective one—the typing pool at the Agency (the then relatively new CIA), which acts as a smart, snappy Greek chorus as the action of the novel progresses, also providing delightful description and commentary on D.C. life in the 1950s. The other three are Irina, a young Russian American who is hired despite her slow typing because other tasks are planned for her; Sally, an experienced spy who is charged with training Irina and ends up falling madly in love with her; and Olga, the real-life mistress of Boris Pasternak, whose devotion to the married author sent her twice to the gulag and dwarfed everything else in her life, including her two children. Well-researched and cleverly constructed, the novel shifts back and forth between the Soviet Union and Washington, beginning with Olga's first arrest in 1949—"When the men in the black suits came, my daughter offered them tea"—and moving through the smuggling of the Soviet-suppressed manuscript of Dr. Zhivago out of Russia all the way up to the release of the film version in 1965. Despite the passionate avowals and heroics, the love affair of Olga and Boris never quite catches fire. But the Western portions of the book —the D.C. gossip, the details of spy training, and the lesbian affair—really sing. An intriguing and little-known chapter of literary history is brought to life with brio. (Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2019)

Publisher's Weekly

/* Starred Review */ 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. (Sept.) --Staff (Reviewed 07/01/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 26, p)

Library Journal

/* Starred Review */ DEBUT Boris Pasternak's masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago, banned in the Soviet Union, was smuggled out to an Italian publisher in 1957, when the book became a literary sensation in the West. In the United States, the work became a propaganda tool for the CIA. Prescott's exciting novel begins with the women who work in the agency's typing pool. Among these "gals" in Washington ("The West") are the young Russian American Irina and the sophisticated Sally, whose secretarial careers have turned into something a great deal more dangerous. Back in Moscow ("The East"), historical characters include Pasternak himself and his longtime lover Olga, the inspiration for Lara in his novel. Olga pays the highest price, spending years in the Gulag, a reminder of just how grim the Soviet years were. This rich and well-researched narrative has an almost epic sweep, with alternating dramatic plots involving spies and espionage, many fascinating characters (both historical and fictional) from East and West, and a gifted writer and storyteller to tie it all together. VERDICT For a debut novelist, Prescott writes with astonishing assurance, enthralling readers with tales of secret agents and intrigue, love, and betrayal. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/19.] --Leslie Patterson (Reviewed 08/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 7, p90)


Cover for The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure The Paris Architect
by Charles Belfoure

In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money and maybe get him killed. But if he's clever enough, he'll avoid any trouble. All Lucien has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won't find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can't resist. But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to hide a Jew becomes personal, Lucien can no longer ignore what's at stake. The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we'll go to make things right.

Cover of Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams Our Woman in Moscow
by Beatriz Williams

In the autumn of 1948, Iris Digby vanishes from her London home with her American diplomat husband and their two children. The world is shocked by the family’s sensational disappearance. Were they eliminated by the Soviet intelligence service? Or have the Digbys defected to Moscow with a trove of the West’s most vital secrets?

Four years later, Ruth Macallister receives a postcard from the twin sister she hasn’t seen since their catastrophic parting in Rome in the summer of 1940, as war engulfed the continent and Iris fell desperately in love with an enigmatic United States Embassy official named Sasha Digby. Within days, Ruth is on her way to Moscow, posing as the wife of counterintelligence agent Sumner Fox in a precarious plot to extract the Digbys from behind the Iron Curtain.

But the complex truth behind Iris’s marriage defies Ruth’s understanding, and as the sisters race toward safety, a dogged Soviet KGB officer forces them to make a heartbreaking choice between two irreconcilable loyalties.

Cover of A Single Spy by William Christie A Single Spy
by William Christie

This World War II-era tale of double-crossing follows an Azerbaijani thief who became a spy on pain of death. Trained by Soviet intelligence, he's sent undercover into Nazi Germany, where he joins the intelligence service and is tasked with pulling off a stunning assassination. Inspired by the theoretical assassination of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, lots of historical detail and a complex protagonist who just wants to save his own skin