The Secrets We Kept is Lara Prescott’s debut novel, and it has already been named the September 2019 Book Club pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club and a recent New York Times article says the book is “headed for widespread popularity.”
Lara told us a little bit about her inspiration, the audiobook (narrated by a full cast), and her love of independent bookstores.
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
Told primarily through the perspectives of a group of secretaries turned spies, The Secrets We Kept was inspired by the true story of the CIA’s mission to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviets citizens using Boris Pasternak’s banned Doctor Zhivago as a tool of propaganda.
But of course, the initial inspiration came from my name. My parents named me Lara after Boris Pasternak’s heroine in Doctor Zhivago, and I’ve always had a deep love for the great Russian novel.
Then, in 2014, my father sent me a Washington Post article titled “During Cold War, CIA used ‘Doctor Zhivago’ as a tool to undermine Soviet Union.” I devoured the incredible true story behind the novel’s publication—a story involving clandestine propaganda missions, vying governments, books used as weapons, personal intrigue, and heartache. From that point on, I wanted to find out everything I could about the story behind the story.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
Listeners may be surprised that I don’t know how to speak Russian! But luckily, I have friends who are fluent and helped me out with the pronunciation of some of the Russian words I use in The Secrets We Kept.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?
I have! It is striking how visual of an experience it is to listen to my book being read aloud by so many amazing narrators! It’s similar to watching a film.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
I am! I listen to audiobooks while walking my puppy Mo in the mornings. My last favorite was American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. I also loved Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
They’ve meant the world to me! Indie bookstores have been a place of refuge for me; a place where I always felt like I belonged. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
And I know this much to be true: books have certainly changed my own life. Books like Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, and Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt all had a hand in changing the way I view the world. To me, there is no greater way to build empathy than storytelling. Books allow us to experience others’ lives, visit other time periods, and walk the streets of places we’ve never been. In a time where there is so much talk of building walls and vitriolic rhetoric that emphasizes all that makes us different, it is almost a revolutionary act to imagine all that makes us similar.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I think everyone should read (or listen to) Doctor Zhivago! Each time I read Zhivago, I take something different away from it. As a young adult, I was most interested in the love story. Later, I was struck by the sheer brilliance and beauty of Pasternak’s sentences. On my most recent readings, what struck me the most were the ways in which Pasternak conveys the importance of free thought. Through the life of Yuri Zhivago, Pasternak demonstrates that the yearning for freedom remains an indestructible force—in spite of political systems that seek to repress it.
To me, Zhivago is more about life and love than politics. It’s about individuals who think and laugh and love for themselves, no matter the cost. That said, reading the book today feels just as relevant as it was when first published in 1957.