An authority on the life and works of Serge Prokofiev charts the sad biographical arc of his wife, Lina, who spent some devastating years in the Soviet gulag.
Born in Madrid in 1897, Lina was talented. She knew a half dozen languages and sang well enough to perform in some impressive venues—sometimes with her far more talented and celebrated husband. Morrison (Music History/Princeton Univ.; The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years, 2009), who had access to the family and significant archival collections, has produced a gripping story of a young woman’s rise into the highest social and musical circles, her marriage to Prokofiev (whose principal affection was for his music, not his family), and their globe-trotting tours and swelling celebrity. But as the Stalin-led Soviet Union commenced its multiple atrocities and outrages, the Prokofievs’ world shrank, their travels were limited and their futures were tightly circumscribed. Morrison shows how the composer gradually wearied of his family and walked out on them in 1941 (for a younger woman) and did little to protect them from the government. Lina—perhaps naïve, perhaps careless—drew the attention of the security services, which arrested her in 1948. She spent eight years in the gulag, a period that is most painful to read about. In all their odiousness, the author relates the interrogations, deprivations, torture and the unrelenting suffering of Lina and many others. When Stalin died and the government slightly softened under Khrushchev, Lina was eventually released and returned to Moscow (Serge had died three years earlier), where she eked out a living until, inexplicably, the authorities allowed her to leave, and she spent her final years in Paris and London, where she died at the age of 91 in 1989.
Research, compassion and outrage combine in a story both riveting and wrenching.