Pasternak was named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. On 25 October, two days after hearing that he had won, Pasternak sent the following telegram to the Swedish Academy:
Immensely thankful, touched, proud, astonished, abashed.
However, four days later came another telegram:
Considering the meaning this award has been given in the society to which I belong, I must refuse it. Please do not take offense at my voluntary rejection.
The Swedish Academy announced:
This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place.
Pasternak had declined under intense pressure from Soviet authorities. Despite turning down the award, Soviet officials soured on Pasternak, and he was threatened at the very least with expulsion. In response, Pasternak wrote to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev,
"Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work."
In addition, the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, may also have spoken with Khrushchev about this, and Pasternak was not exiled or imprisoned.
Despite this, a famous Bill Mauldin cartoon at the time showed Pasternak and another prisoner the GULAG, splitting trees in the snow. In the caption, Pasternak says, "I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?" The cartoon won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1959.