Fact and fiction mingle seamlessly in a story of the defection and lonely wanderings of Josef Stalin’s only daughter.
Our travels with Svetlana Alliluyeva (she took her mother’s last name, then later reinvented herself as Lana Peters when she married for the second time) begin with her arrival in New York City after having defected from the Soviet Union in 1967. She is met by crowds of curious photographers and wary State Department officials. From here, real-life events blend with Schwartz’s (Northwest Corner, 2011, etc.) imagining of her haunted inner life. Holding these two threads together is the character of Svetlana’s attorney, Peter Horvath, based in part on the author’s father, who was actually sent by the CIA to smuggle Alliluyeva into the United States. In the richly detailed pages of these fictional journals, Svetlana recalls her dark girlhood in Russia grieving her mother’s suicide and fearing her father’s brutal power. As a young woman, she sees lovers sent to work camps or exiled by her disapproving father and the Soviet government. Unable to be seen as an individual apart from her parentage and fearing the same fate for her two grown children, she defects to the U.S. to start over on her own terms, convincing herself it’s the only way they can all break free. But things don’t go according to plan, and Svetlana’s life becomes a series of stranger-than-fiction twists and turns that take her all over the world in search of her elusive and authentic self.
An insightful and compelling saga of a woman desperately trying to escape her infamous past.