Rosemary Sullivan's Stalin's Daughter: Now THAT's a biography.
02 September 2015
by Rosemary Sullivan
A while back I read a short newspaper article about a woman named Svetlana Alliluyeva, who for many years lived in Spring Green, Wisconsin, which seemed a bit odd to me, because Svetlana Alliluyeva was the daughter of Stalin. So when I saw the cover of Rosemary Sullivan's biography Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, I thought, I want to read that.
But then I got it home, and looked it over, and thought, wow, 623 pages, what are the chances of me getting that read? Turns out: pretty good. I started reading it one night and then I couldn't put it down for the entire next week.
For whatever reason I've always been interested in Russian history, but I think you could enjoy this biography even if a. you weren't that interested in Russian or world history, or b. you don't know anything about Russian history. I actually knew very little about Stalin before reading this book, and I must say I didn't learn a ton about his politics or more reprehensible policies from reading it.* This biography stays fairly firmly rooted in his family life and the experiences of his family members, which are more than varied and terrible enough to fill the 600 pages.
Alliluyeva was an incredible woman who struggled to live as normal a human life as she could, even though it really proved impossible for her to ever really escape her father's shadow. Her triumphs of intellect and will, coupled with her weaknesses and her loneliness make for fascinating reading. This is one of the best books I've read so far this year.
Here's your excerpt:
"She was called unstable. The historian Robert Tucker remarked that 'despite everything, she was, in some sense, like her father.' And yet it's astonishing how little she resembled her father. She did not believe in violence. She had a risk taker's resilience, a commitment to life, and an unexpected optimism, even though her life spanned the brutalities of the twentieth century in the most heartrending of ways, giving her a knowledge of the dark side of human experience, which few people are ever forced to confront. Caught between two worlds in the Cold War power struggles between East and West, she was served well by neither side. She had to slowly learn how the West functioned. The process of her education is fascinating and often sad." (p. xvii.)
*Although this book does illuminate many things about what might be called the Russian character, or culture, particularly of the twentieth century and previously.