Winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction
A New York Times Notable Book of 2015
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.
Reviews of Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva
- ‘A tremendously exciting and stimulating biography … Never have I read a biography that reminded my more of a picaresque novel, with its heroine bouncing like a pinball from one location to another, from one bizarre situation to another … Her life may have been a mess, but this masterful biography shows that it was her mess, and a magnificent mess, too, in its own particular way’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday *****
- ‘It takes a fine biographer to capture a woman as parti-coloured as this, and Sullivan has produced a delicate, balanced and unforgettably good portrait of a courageous and magnificent woman’ Daily Telegraph *****
- ‘What would it mean to be the child of one of the most feared mass murderers in history? Rosemary Sullivan’s compelling biography of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s only daughter, makes an admirable attempt at an answer…The remarkable thing about Stalin’s daughter was not that she was imperious, infuriating, batty at times, but that she had survived at all — and survived, as this entertaining book shows, with her dignity and integrity in tact’ Sunday Times
- ‘Was Stalin a monster? Oh, yes. The question that threads through this lively intelligent book is a more interesting one, though: can you live with the idea that you are the daughter of a monster?’ The Times
- ‘Reading this extensively researched book it is impossible not to feel for a woman who grew up “the political prisoner of my father’s name”’ Independent on Sunday
- ‘Sullivan controls her widespread canvas and large cast in exemplary fashion. Svetlana was chaotic, exasperating, difficult to the point of impossible — but never boring. She was one of the few credits that you can attribute to Stalin’ Book of the Week, Daily Mail
- ‘A biography on an epic scale, with a combination of tragedy and history worthy of a Russian novel. She recreates with clarity and compassion the life of a brave woman’ Independent
- ‘A singular story, brilliantly told’ Daily Telegraph
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