PRH stands by Prescott in Pasternak plagiarism row

PRH stands by Prescott in Pasternak plagiarism row

Penguin Random House says claims by Boris Pasternak’s great niece that parts of Lara Prescott’s debut novel plagiarise her work are “unfounded” and will be “robustly defended”.

Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept (Hutchinson) the subject of a 12-publisher auction last year, was released last month to critical acclaim. Her book, for which she received a reported $2m advance from Knopf in the US, is based on the CIA’s plot to influence Soviet Russia through Pasternak’s classic Dr Zhivago, taking in the author’s affair with muse Olga Ivinskaya.

But, according to the Sunday Times, lawyers for Pasternak's great-niece Anna Pasternak claim the novel has “an astonishing number of substantial elements” taken from her own book Lara: The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago, which was published in 2016 by HarperCollins imprint William Collins.

According to the paper, she is seeking damages or compensation as the similarities “exceed the mere inspiration a novelist may legitimately draw from a work of non-fiction”. Pasternak also claims Prescott is “passing off” her book as the untold story of Ivinskaya.

An appearance by both writers at the Cheltenham literary festival has also been cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances”, it reported.

A spokesman for PRH said: “Penguin Random House and Lara Prescott consider Anna Pasternak's claim to be unfounded and if proceedings are in fact issued, they will be robustly defended. Lara Prescott’s book, The Secrets We Kept, is a fictional account of how Dr Zhivago came to be published alongside the rise of the CIA in Washington DC in the early 1950s. The subject matter of both books is one of historical record and has been covered by other books in the past. 

“Furthermore, Olga Ivinskaya’s story in particular has been the subject of many books dating back to 1961 including her own autobiography (1978) and notably Peter Finn and Petra Couvee’s book The Zhivago Affair (2014).

“Anna Pasternak’s claims are simply without any merit and it is disappointing that she has chosen to litigate in the press rather than wait for the response to her letter of complaint within the timeline requested by her own lawyers.”

The Bookseller has approached HarperCollins for comment.