A descendant of the author of Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, has lost a copyright infringement claim against the author of a novel about the publication of the Russian epic.
Anna Pasternak claimed seven chapters in Lara Prescott’s work of historical fiction The Secrets We Kept (TSWK), copied material from her own book Lara, a 2016 biography of her great-uncle’s lover, Olga Ivinskaya.
Ivinskaya was the muse of the character Lara, played by Julie Christie, in David Lean’s 1965 film adaptation of Doctor Zhivago, which also starred Omar Sharif.
Prescott’s novel, a fictionalized account of how the CIA planned to use Doctor Zhivago as a propaganda tool during the Cold War, was published in 2019 under a two-book, $2.5 million deal dollars with Penguin Random House. The film rights were also sold.
Pasternak claimed that he copied a substantial part of the selection, structure, and arrangement of facts and incidents that she said she created when she wrote Lara.
However, in a High Court judgment in London on Tuesday, Judge Edwin Johnson said: “It is clear that the defendant did not copy from Lara the selection of events in the relevant chapters of TSWK or any part thereof. selection. The main reason for this is that Lara and TSWK are fundamentally different works.
“Lara is a non-fiction historical work. The claimant pointed out in her testimony that although her goal was to tell the story in an accessible and readable way, the reading being more like fiction, the book is not a work of fiction and describes real events. TSWK is a work of historical fiction. It is based on real events, but these real events were woven into the story devised by the accused, and were themselves adapted to suit the story.
The judge said that the relevant chapters of the two books concerned the same historical events in the life of Boris Pasternak and Ivinskaya and that the respective authors used the same main sources, from which Anna Pasternak had copied “substantial parts”.
He said: “In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the sequence of events, in each work, follows the same basic chronology, although I emphasize the reference to the basic chronology; given the differences in events and their order between the two works.
“Similarly, it’s no surprise that you find some of the same details in every work. None of these areas of similarity or overlap seems to me to establish that the accused copied the selection of events from the relevant chapters of Lara.
Johnson also said it was “amazing” that Pasternak could file a copyright complaint without having read Prescott’s book.
Prescott, who lives in the US state of New Hampshire, said she was “very happy to have been vindicated”. She added: “Above all, this judgment affirms my artistic integrity throughout the years I have spent researching, writing and editing my novel.”
Pasternak said it was a statement she “felt compelled to make, both to defend my family’s literary heritage and to give non-fiction writers adequate protection against the increasingly popular genre of historical fiction”.