This post originally appeared in Business Insider.
On Thursday the CIA tweeted a cryptic quote by Russian novelist Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago.
Check it out below:
Translation: “I wrote the novel in order for it to be published and read, and that remains my only desire.”
At first glance this looks like yet another Twitter hack, but there’s an incredible story behind this.
The CIA has a history of smuggling subversive books into countries, including the Soviet Union. One of those books was Doctor Zhivago.
After working on the novel on and off over more than 20 years, Pasternak first submitted it for publication in 1956. But the KGB rejected it and characterized it as “malicious libel.”
Pasternak so desperately wanted the book to get out that he gave copies to associates Isaiah Berlin and George Katkov to take to England, Jacqueline de Proyart to take to France, and a young Italian journalist to take to Italy.
The novel ended up spending six months on the top of the New York Times’ best-seller list, and it was a huge sensation around the world.
In 1957, less than a month after the book appeared in Italy, a CIA memo “cited an expert’s view that it was ‘more important than any other literature which has yet come out of the Soviet Bloc,’ ” reports the New York Review of Books.
But it still wasn’t available in the USSR.
So the CIA had a secret plan to get the novel into the country. After many obstacles, it managed to get the novel published en masse and sent copies to be distributed at the Brussels International World Fair. The organization also gave copies to sailors bound for the Soviet Union.
Long story short: It worked.
A CIA memo concluded that “this phase can be considered completed successfully,” according to the New York Review of Books.
Pasternak won the Nobel Prize at the end of 1958 for his work, but he was denounced by the head of the Komsomol as a “pig fouling its own sty.” Pasternak was afraid of being deported, and he rejected the prize.
If you want to read the whole crazy story of the CIA’s once-secret involvement, head to the New York Review of Books.