KREMLIN WIVES by Larissa Vasilieva


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 If this book proves anything, it is that the Russians have as much to learn about investigative journalism as they have about running an economy. Vasilieva, the daughter of a high-placed general and herself often in the Kremlin, researched this book in part by meeting with some of the Kremlin wives, including the widows of Brezhnev and Chernenko, and was allowed ``a few brief hours'' to examine KGB files. The extracts from the latter are both new and devastating, although they serve merely to confirm once again the total speciousness of the KGB charges against the wives of Kalinin and Molotov, respectively the president and the foreign minister of the Soviet Union under Stalin, which led to their imprisonment. The greatest value of the book lies in the mere fact of providing detail about women of whom little has been known: the freewheeling Alexandra Kollontai, an advocate of free love; the tragic Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin's second wife, who probably committed suicide, though Vasilieva deals usefully with the other scenarios that have been constructed about her death; Molotov's wife, Paulina Semyonovna, who with Molotov was Stalin's greatest friend, though it didn't prevent her spending five years in prison and in the camps; and many more obscure than these. But there is too much unattributed information, sheer speculation, and material that comes close to fantasy: Of Stalin's and Molotov's wives, she asks, without citing any evidence, ``Who could object if on occasion he [Stalin] sometimes slept with his wife's best friend and his best friend's wife?'' Or the statement that Lenin's letter to Stalin taking him to task for his harshness to Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, ``cost him his life.'' And finally she gives us what one might call the ``everyone in Dnepropetrovsk'' standard, as in ``Everyone in Dnepropetrovsk knew of his [Brezhnev's] affair.'' Some stunning stuff, but one often feels that one is dealing with the ghost of Elvis.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-55970-260-5
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1994