OBITUARY: Olga Ivinskaya

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The Independent Online
"Lara exists," said Boris Pasternak. "I want you to meet her. Here is her telephone number . . ."

Olga Ivinskaya was Pasternak's friend and the lover of his last 13 years, and the original of Lara in his first novel and best-known work Doctor Zhivago, banned in the Soviet Union but published in Italy in 1957. It was translated into English in 1958, the year he was awarded - and had to refuse - the Nobel Prize for Literature.

They met for the first time in October 1946, in Moscow, in the editorial office of the literary magazine Novy Mir ("New World"), where she was in charge of the new authors department. She was 34, and Pasternak 23 years her senior, a twice married man with two sons. They met nearly every day by Pushkin's statue in Pushkin Square, and went for long walks around Moscow. On 4 April 1947 Pasternak declared his love, writing to her: "My life, my angel, I love you truly." (A postscript dated 1953 adds: "This inscription is eternal and valid for ever. And can only grow stronger.") Early in 1948 he asked her to leave Novy Mir, as her position there was getting more difficult because of their relationship. She took up a role as his secretary instead.

Ivinskaya - her mother's name - was partly of German-Polish descent, and born in 1912, some 300 miles south-east of Moscow in the ancient town of Tambov. Her father was a provincial high school teacher. In 1915 the family moved to Moscow. After graduating from the Editorial Workers Institute in Moscow in 1936, she worked as an editor at various literary magazines. She had been an admirer of Pasternak's since her adolescence, attending literary gatherings to listen to his poetry.

The late 1940s and early 1950s were paranoid years in the Soviet Union. Anyone who had relatives abroad was in danger and Pasternak's two sisters lived in Oxford and maintained close contact with him.

Pasternak was personally known to Stalin, who, as a Georgian, took an interest in him as a translator of Georgian poets into Russian. According to Ivinskaya, Stalin met Pasternak in 1924 or 1925, with two other poets, Sergei Yesenin (once married to Isadora Duncan) and Vladimir Mayakovsky. Stalin also rang Pasternak one evening in July 1934 and asked his opinion of another poet, Osip Mandelstam (who was shortly after arrested and perished in the gulag).

The MGB (as the KGB were then known) did not dare to arrest Pasternak, but turned on Ivinskaya. In July 1950 she was arrested as "an accomplice to the spy". She was pregnant by Pasternak and in the horrible conditions of a prison, interrogated day and night, she miscarried. She was sentenced to five years in a labour camp.

Doctor Zhivago was started during the Second World War and finished in the early 1950s. It was not a political novel, and certainly did not threaten the Soviet regime. It described the life of a Russian doctor, whose love was Lara, in the turbulent half-century of Russian history including the revolution and the civil war.

In 1954, at the very beginning of Khrushchev's thaw, 10 poems from Doctor Zhivago were allowed to appear in the literary monthly magazine Znamya. By 1956 all hope of publication of the book in the Soviet Union disappeared but it appeared in Italy the following year published by Feltrinelli, with Ivinskaya conducting all negotia- tions on Pasternak's behalf. Eight years later Doctor Zhivago was filmed by David Lean, with Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Julie Christie as Lara.

In 1958 Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Nobel committee citing his "important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition". The Nobel academy's permanent secretary, Anders Oesterling, compared Doctor Zhivago to Tolstoy's War and Peace and referred to the book's "pure and powerful genius". He said that the award was in honour of Pasternak's courage in producing a work of such independence "above all political party frontiers and . . . anti- political in its entirely humane outlook".

Under pressure from the Soviet government Pasternak refused the prize, but the official campaign against him continued, accelerating his death two years later in 1960.

After Pasternak's death Ivinskaya was arrested for the second time, this time with her daughter Lyudmila Yemelianova (by her first husband, Ivan Yemelianov, who hanged himself in 1939). She was accused of being Pasternak's link with Western publishers in dealing in hard currency for Doctor Zhivago. The Soviet press set out to blacken her reputation. In January 1961 Radio Moscow made broadcasts in Italian, German and English accusing Ivinskaya of swindling Pasternak's rightful heirs, and of accepting shipments of roubles and dollars smuggled past customs.

Within a few months Western newspapers stopped protesting about her arrest, and the Soviet government quietly released them, Lyudmila after one year, in 1962, and Olga Ivinskaya in 1964. She returned to her flat in Moscow, in a council block in Potapov Street. All Pasternak's letters to her and other manuscripts and documents had in the meantime been seized by the KGB.

Olga Ivinskaya was rehabilitated only under Gorbachev in 1988, when she was already half-blind and frail. By law the KGB were obliged to return everything they had taken from her. But her efforts to regain Pasternak's letters to her were blocked by Pasternak's daughter- in-law, Natalya, the widow of Leonid Pasternak. Several years of litigation came to nothing as the Russian Supreme Court ruled against her on the ground that "there was no proof of ownership" and "papers should remain in the state archive". Her protest to Boris Yeltsin about violations of her rights as a citizen which made her reha- bilitation "useless" did not help, either.

In her last years she lived in a one-room apartment with her son Dmitry Vinogradov (by her second marriage to Alexander Vinogradov, who was killed in 1943 at the front). In 1978 her memoirs were published in Paris in Russian. They were translated into all the main European languages, and appeared in English under the title A Captive of Time.

Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya, writer, editor: born Tambov 27 June 1912; married 1936 Ivan Yemelianov (died 1939; one daughter), 1941 Alexander Vinogradov (died 1943; one son); died Moscow 8 September 1995.