Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Stalina
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Stalin's Daughter is a work of narrative non-fiction on a grand scale, combining popular history and biography to tell the incredible story of a woman fated to live her life in the shadow of one of history's most monstrous dictators.
Svetlana Stalina, who died on November 22, 2011, at the age of eighty-five, was the only daughter and the last surviving child of Josef Stalin. Beyond Stalina's controversial defection to the US in a cloak-and-dagger escape via India in 1967, her journey from life as the beloved daughter of a fierce autocrat to death in small-town Wisconsin is an astonishing saga.
Publicly she was the young darling of her people; privately she was controlled by a tyrannical father who dictated her every move, even sentencing a man she loved to ten years' hard labour in Siberia. Svetlana burned her passport soon after her arrival in New York City and renounced both her father and the USSR. She married four times and had three children. Her last husband was William Wesley Peters, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's chief apprentice, with whom she lived at Taliesin West, Wright’s desert compound in Arizona. In 1984, she returned to the Soviet Union, this time renouncing the US, and then reappeared in America two years later, claiming she had been manipulated by her homeland. She spoke four languages and was politically shrewd, even warning in the late '90s of the consequences of the rise to power of former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. A woman shaped and torn apart by her father’s legacy, Svetlana Stalina spent her final years as a nomad, shuttling between England, France and the US.
In her research for Stalin's Daughter, Rosemary Sullivan had the full co-operation of Svetlana’s American daughter, Olga. Rosemary interviewed dozens of people who knew Svetlana, including family and friends in Moscow and the CIA agent who was in charge of moving her from India when she defected. She also drew on family letters and on KGB, CIA, FBI, NARA and British Foreign Office files.
and advised her to change the title. Svetlana told Louis Fischer in March that Tucker had “made ‘comments’ on almost every page, but I didn’t bother listening to him.”31 In a portrait of Svetlana written for the Washington Post in 1984, titled “Svetlana Inherited Her Tragic Flaw,” Robert Tucker complained that she had taken almost none of his advice and that her unnecessary thank-you to him in her afterword caused him an “unpleasant moment” when he visited Moscow State University in 1970. His
to phone her. He didn’t get a chance to offer his commiseration. She was irate. Why was he calling now? He hadn’t bothered to call in fifteen months. He might at least have called Olga. Had he such close ties to the authorities that he knew immediately that she was in the hospital? She asked him brutally, “What is it? Do you intend to bury me soon? It’s not time yet.”27 They both hung up. She was sure the authorities were going to try to use her son to stop her from leaving. Possibly she had
the old chest holding photographs, Olga’s apartment was the only welcoming space in this strange new world. When Svetlana visited, she would find her grandmother raging at the new regimen. She called the “state employees” a waste of public money. The staff retorted that she was “a fussy old freak.”2 Svetlana’s maternal grandmother, Olga Alliluyeva, in an undated photograph. It was soon clear that Stalin had no intention of living in the Kremlin. Shortly after Nadya’s death, he had his favorite
through the sites of Svetlana’s past and gave me access to invaluable documents; Philippa Hill, who offered me Svetlana’s original letters; Nina Lobanov-Rostovsky for her insights; David and Clarissa Pryce-Jones, who made time for me; and the remarkable Mary Burkett, who hosted my stay in the Lake District. Rosamond Richardson was invariably generous with her time and her collection of Alliluyeva interview tapes and memorabilia. Of those in the United States, I would like to single out Joan
far from unusual in believing that her only route to a creative life was adjacent to a man. She retreated once again, but it must have been embarrassing to face down the gossip at the Gorky Institute. Later she would write admiringly of both Sinyavsky and his wife in her second memoir Only One Year, never alluding to this humiliation, and would assume she could pick up her friendship with them both. However, Sinyavsky did have a lasting impact. As a committed Christian, he probably influenced