Summary and book reviews of Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan

Stalin's Daughter

The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

by Rosemary Sullivan

Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 752 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 768 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sinéad Fitzgibbon

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About this Book

Book Summary

A painstakingly researched, revelatory biography of Svetlana Stalin, a woman fated to live her life in the shadow of one of history's most monstrous dictators—her father, Josef Stalin.

Born in the early years of the Soviet Union, Svetlana Stalin spent her youth inside the walls of the Kremlin. Communist Party privilege protected her from the mass starvation and purges that haunted Russia, but she did not escape tragedy—the loss of everyone she loved, including her mother, two brothers, aunts and uncles, and a lover twice her age, deliberately exiled to Siberia by her father.

As she gradually learned about the extent of her father's brutality after his death, Svetlana could no longer keep quiet and in 1967 shocked the world by defecting to the United States—leaving her two children behind. But although she was never a part of her father's regime, she could not escape his legacy. Her life in America was fractured; she moved frequently, married disastrously, shunned other Russian exiles, and ultimately died in poverty in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

With access to KGB, CIA, and Soviet government archives, as well as the close cooperation of Svetlana's daughter, Rosemary Sullivan pieces together Svetlana's incredible life in a masterful account of unprecedented intimacy. Epic in scope, it's a revolutionary biography of a woman doomed to be a political prisoner of her father's name. Sullivan explores a complicated character in her broader context without ever losing sight of her powerfully human story, in the process opening a closed, brutal world that continues to fascinate us.

Prologue
The Defection

At 7:00 p.m. on March 6, 1967, a taxi drew up to the open gates of the American Embassy on Shantipath Avenue in New Delhi. Watched carefully by the Indian police guard, it proceeded slowly up the circular drive. The passenger in the backseat looked out at the large circular reflecting pool, serene in the fading light. A few ducks and geese still floated among the jets of water rising from its surface. The embassy's exterior walls were constructed of pierced concrete blocks, which gave the building a light, airy look. The woman noted how different This was from the stolid institutional Soviet Embassy she had just left. So this was America.

Svetlana Alliluyeva climbed the wide steps and stared at the American eagle embedded in the glass doors. All the important decisions of her life had been taken precipitately. Once she crossed this threshold, she knew that her old life would be irrevocably lost to her. She had no doubt that the wrath of the Kremlin would ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Throughout this fascinating book, Sullivan paints an intriguing portrait of a woman lost in a sea of fear and confusion. The Svetlana we meet in the pages of this balanced and intuitive biography is a complex, mercurial woman, someone who was as much a victim of her own capriciousness as she was a victim of circumstances. Svetlana's life may well have been extraordinary and tumultuous, but it was also almost unbearably tragic. She "survived" it in the broadest sense of the word, but in many ways, her father stole the life of his own daughter, just as he did with the millions of others he so cavalierly disposed of during his blood-soaked reign of terror.   (Reviewed by Sinéad Fitzgibbon).

Full Review (998 words).

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Media Reviews

The Los Angeles Times

A principal virtue of…Sullivan’s empathetic Stalin’s Daughter is the vivid sense it offers of Alliluyeva…. Sullivan does a nice job of conveying her subject’s point of view without accepting it as the last word.

The New York Times

Looking backward, as the Canadian historian Rosemary Sullivan does clearly and evenhandedly in Stalin’s Daughter, it appears astounding that the girl who could have had the world’s worst daddy issues managed to grow up at all.... This measured, informative biography...grows ever more fascinating.

The Wall Street Journal

Compelling…. Sullivan takes us confidently through an eventful life….It’s to Ms. Sullivan’s credit that, at least in these pages, Alliluyeva herself is proved…a fascinating person not simply because of her name.

O, The Oprah Magazine

[A] magisterial biography.

The New York Times Book Review

Riveting…. Throughout, Sullivan treats the wealth of facts she has uncovered with a sensitive, compassionate touch…. Sullivan tells a nuanced story that, while invariably sympathetic, nonetheless allows readers the freedom of their own interpretations.

Library Journal

Insightful and thoroughly researched. This excellent and engrossing biography is suitable for anyone interested in Russian history or in Svetlana's struggle to make a difference in a world that never could separate her from her.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Stalin's only daughter, lived an almost impossible life at the edges of 20th-century history… Sullivan masterfully employs interviews, Alliluyeva's own letters, and the contents of CIA, KGB, and Soviet archives to stitch together a coherent narrative of her fractured life.

Booklist

Starred Review. Sullivan draws on previously secret documents and interviews with Svetlana's American daughter, her friends, and the CIA 'handler' who escorted her to the U.S. for riveting accounts of her complicated life.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A biography of haunting fascination… The author has illuminated another challenging, mercurial subject...The author manages suspense and intrigue at every turn.

Author Blurb Cokie Roberts, New York Times bestselling author of Founding Mothers, Ladies of Liberty, and Capital Dames
If it weren't for the pages of scrupulous footnotes and the many interviews Rosemary Sullivan pursued you would be convinced that this was fiction. But it's a true story, thrillingly told in this fast-paced, fascinating biography.

Author Blurb Simon Sebag Montefiore, bestselling author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
Compassionate and compelling, Sullivan sensitively delivers the intimate, tragic life story of a woman who was Stalin's only daughter in all its strangeness….This is not a political story but a quest for love in the heart of darkness.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Flights to the West: Soviet Defections during the Cold War

When Svetlana Alliluyeva, Joseph's Stalin's only daughter, took the impulsive decision on 6 March, 1967, to enter the American Embassy in New Delhi and request political asylum, she took the world by surprise. Becoming an instant celebrity, she was feted in the United States (her adopted country), and was widely reported on in the world's press. Understandably the reaction in her homeland was somewhat less enthusiastic. Given the cachet her family history carried, and the elevated status she enjoyed in the Soviet Union as a result, Alliluyeva's defection rocked the USSR to its very core. Keen to limit the damage, the Soviet government and the KGB worked hard to discredit Svetlana, orchestrating an insidiously negative propaganda campaign, ...

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