2019 Reviews · historical fiction

Book Review: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Title: The Secrets We Keptthe secrets we kept small.jpg

Author: Lara Prescott

Published: September 3rd 2019

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 480

Genres: Fiction, Historical

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

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.

In Washington DC, the CIA is planning 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.

It will not be easy. There are people prepared 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.
Sold in twenty-five countries and poised to become a global literary sensation, Lara Prescott’s dazzling first novel is a sweeping page turner and the most hotly anticipated debut of the year.


In 2016, author Lara Prescott was awarded the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize for the first chapter of her debut novel. This provided to be a noteworthy prize, as it helped the author to publish her first novel in 2019. The Secrets We Kept is a spellbinding tale of love, truth, secrets, danger, war and power. With a thrilling plot, The Secrets We Kept proved to be an enthralling novel from start to finish.

Beginning in the year 1949, so begins the tumultuous journey of the classic book Doctor Zhivago, written by Russian author Boris Pasternak. This masterpiece novel soon caught the eye of the Soviets, who decided to ban the book, rather than release it to the public. The Soviets feared of the power of this book. However, other countries around the world embraced Pasternak’s classic, especially the USA. The CIA used it as a weapon in the Cold War. The Secrets We Kept is also the story of two brave females, typists of the CIA, who are issued with an unforgettable mission. They must deliver the famed book into the hands of the Russians, so that it can be published. There is no denying that this is a deadly cat and mouse game, with many prepared to put their lives on the line for this revolutionary book.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak is a book that holds a dear place in my heart. I have a weakness for all things Russian, which is a result in my fascination as a child in the Romanovs. Since then, I have made my way through a number of Russian set novels, including historical fiction, contemporary fiction, non fiction and classics. As a teenager I was introduced the film adaptation of Doctor Zhivago and a few years ago I really enjoyed the television series adaptation of the book featuring Keira Knightley. Nothing compares to this magical book, there is something very mesmerising about this classic masterpiece that I just cannot explain. For me, it seems unfathomable that I was not aware of Doctor Zhivago’s tumultuous journey to publication. I assumed the book was readily available to all, especially the Russian people, but this was clearly not the case. The Secrets We Kept concerns itself with incredible pathway this book went through and the power it yielded from its publication.

The Secrets We Kept is a well written novel and the style of narration utilised by Lara Prescott to unveil this story is assured, as well as informative. I appreciated the way that the book switched from the East to the West, opening with a hooking prologue involving the influential typists of the story. It then travels from 1949 and concludes in 1961, with a final parting note from the typists. An Author’s Note and Acknowledgements section provides an extra layer to this compelling story.

There are some strong and resounding themes that circulate around The Secrets We Kept, from literary inspiration, to the writing process, publication rights, infidelity, government, political power, the cold war, spies, injustice, incarceration and freedom. The act of banning this book simply astounded me. I also couldn’t believe that a book and the written word had such power to ignite a war between countries of the world. The dangerous mission to smuggle this book into Russia was almost unbelievable, I had to remind myself that this did happen!

There is so much to this novel, it certainly is a grand and sprawling tale. The characters are presented in a familiar fashion and you soon develop an attachment to them. I came to see historical figures that I have often viewed at a distance as human beings, just like us. Boris Pasternak, his mistress Olga and the typists help initiate the reader in a story of romance, justice, class, suppression, ambition and sacrifice. By the end of the piece I was able to draw a great deal from my experience of reading The Secrets We Kept. One of the lasting reminders of have of this book is the increased level of freedom we have to publish and just what a feat it was to bring a such a highly revered book into the hands of the public.

If you like to sink your teeth into a beguiling political thriller and a rich modern historical text, The Secrets We Kept comes with a big stamp of approval.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott was published on September 3rd 2019 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott, visit here.


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