PRIVILEGE: The Enigma of Sasha Bruce by Joan Mellen

PRIVILEGE: The Enigma of Sasha Bruce

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The short, chaotic life of diplomat David Bruce's daughter Alexandra (Sasha), found shot to death on her family's Virginia estate at age 29. Did Sasha commit suicide, or was she murdered by Marios Michaelides, the Greek sharpie she married and sometimes called ""adored master""? Mellen furnishes no answer (though a murder indictment is still outstanding against Michaelides); nor does she fully unravel the larger enigma: how a young woman with so much going for her went so far wrong. But the facts alone say a lot. Left to grow up largely on her own by parents who placed their public lives first, Sasha was subject to teenage ""moods of dark despair"" (her prep school yearbook described her as ""schizophrenic""). At Radcliffe in the late Sixties she got into drugs, kept well-born suitors at a distance, and began a continuing pattern of ""courting sexual abuse."" She seemed constantly to be taken advantage of--by friends, by lovers--""as if allowing herself to be exploited were a means of atoning for her privilege."" Her relationships with men were disastrous: she fixed on those who (like her father, Mellen notes) withheld their love. In London after college she moved in with a man who called himself Anton von Kassel, was married to someone else, and sold Greek icons (some real, some stolen, some forged). Sasha threw away most of her personal fortune on him, became immersed in the seamy ""icon demimonde,"" and finally bailed out to the family estate ""to work the land and live a pure and simple life."" And also to marry her new lover, the (then) already-married Michaelides, who took total control of her life, isolated her from friends and family, and managed to get the estate signed over to him. ""She took a perverse comfort in his pathological possessiveness,"" says Mellen of her relationship with Michaelides. ""Needing to be punished, she selected someone whose sense of himself as a man depended upon sadism."" In the end, whether he killed her or triggered her own self-destructive impulse may be irrelevant. What caused her need to be punished? What formed her self-destructive streak? Mellen doesn't say, and thus the story fails as tragedy. Good on the who, what, when, where, and how. Poor on the why.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1982
Publisher: Dial