An exiled Russian noblewoman turns Bolshevik, courtesy of Hitler.
Sophy Dolgorouky, the author’s grandmother, left Russia as a child, fleeing with her family following the October Revolution. “Emotional, contradictory, troubled,” as her granddaughter puts it, she sported in the bohemian scene in Paris, married young and moved to England—but then returned to France following the Nazi occupation to tend to her mother. “Sofka,” as the grandmother was called, kept careful notes of what she saw: “All music has ceased on all French wireless transmissions,” she records, “dancing is forbidden.” Her husband, an RAF gunner, was taken prisoner; then she, too, was interned as an enemy alien. Still something of an ingénue, she became a socialist and activist as a prisoner, even refusing repatriation to continue her work helping organize escapes—until she eventually set herself loose, in an entirely improbable turn of events. Zinovieff capably recounts her grandmother’s life, her narrative aided by diaries, journals and even a published autobiography, filling in details that her grandmother had omitted for one reason or another. As Zinovieff writes of one affair, “I wondered why she left these gaps; it certainly wasn’t prudery.” A committed member of the Communist Party following the war, the aging Sofka became an apologist for Stalinism, lauded within the Soviet Union for having shed her class-enemy status and embraced the cause, though not above using her royal status when it served her. “Her excuse for Soviet oppression,” Zinovieff writes, “was that it…was a continuation of what she called ‘the historical, paranoid fear of dissent that has dogged Russian rulers through the centuries.’ ” Mostly, however, the picture of Sofka that emerges is less a propagandist than a slightly more weathered, Bolshevik version of Auntie Mame.
A tangled tale—but now that we have Anastasia’s bones, Russian royal-watchers may find this a pleasing historical account.