It’s re­ally hard when your fa­ther is Stalin.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY GER­ARD DE­G­ROOT book­world@wash­post.com Ger­ard De­G­root is a pro­fes­sor of history at the Univer­sity of St An­drews in Scot­land. His latest book is “Back in Blighty: The Bri­tish at Home in World War One.”

Svet­lana Alliluyeva, Joseph Stalin’s daugh­ter, was sel­dom alone but al­ways lonely. Her life was crowded with peo­ple in­tend­ing to ma­nip­u­late, swin­dle or ex­ploit her. She had friends, but in­ti­macy car­ried great risk be­cause her fa­ther’s evil was anox­ious cloud that swirled round her. “Never inmy life have I been so di­rectly shaken and cap­tured by the tragedy of another per­son,” David Samoilov, a lover, wrote. “And never had I had such an in­tense need to run from a per­son, from the cir­cle of her un­re­solved and suf­fo­cat­ing tragedy.”

That process of be­ing shaken, then cap­tured, then suf­fo­cated by Svet­lana is du­pli­cated per­fectly through this ex­tra­or­di­nary book. It would be easy to blame her for the man­i­fold fol­lies of her life, the op­pres­sive reg­u­lar­ity of id­i­otic mis­takes. Yet Rose­mary Sul­li­van pos­sesses the sen­si­tiv­ity nec­es­sary to un­lock a be­guil­ing and com­plex char­ac­ter wor­thy of ad­mi­ra­tion, not ridicule. Svet­lana emerges as a woman of deep com­pas­sion and su­perb cre­ative in­tel­lect. There was, how­ever, “some­thing of the tyrant in [her] emo­tional ex­u­ber­ance.” By the end of the book, like Samoilov, I un­der­stood the need to run.

Svet­lana was the daugh­ter of history’s most pro­lific mur­derer— a pat­ri­mony im­pos­si­ble to jet­ti­son. For most peo­ple, her at­trac­tion lay in her con­nec­tion to Stalin, not in what she her­self of­fered. Some de­spised her for her prox­im­ity to his evil; oth­ers found her irresistable for pre­cisely the same rea­son. “Wher­ever I go,” she lamented, “I will al­ways be the po­lit­i­cal pris­oner ofmy fa­ther’s name.”

She was also a pris­oner of her mother, Nadya, who com­mit­ted sui­cide when Svet­lana was 6. She loved her mother deeply but did not know her well. In truth, she loved a chimera; it was a love pestered by feel­ings of aban­don­ment. Mem­o­ries were in­evitably minute. She could re­call the smell of Chanel per­fume, which Nadya wore as a small act of de­fi­ance be­cause Stalin dis­ap­proved. She could also re­call a mo­ment when her mother drew a lit­tle square over her heart with her fin­gers and said, “That is where you must bury your se­crets.” Svet­lana never man­aged that.

Her fa­ther could be kind, even lov­ing, yet her af­fec­tion for a man so wicked tor­mented her. When he died in 1953, Svet­lana, then 27, ex­pected a “de­liv­er­ance of some kind.” Yet that hope was naive. She could not es­cape those who wished to use her for po­lit­i­cal pur­pose. Her pedi­gree did not pre­vent her from be­com­ing one of the most op­pressed cit­i­zens in a re­pub­lic built on op­pres­sion. The KGB spied on her lovers, and the Polit­buro be­came her sur­ro­gate fa­ther, ve­to­ing suit­ors. Her warmth and kind­ness proved al­lur­ing, but the safe op­tion was to shun her, since in­ti­macy car­ried im­mense dan­gers.

At the age of 31, al­ready thrice di­vorced, Svet­lana met and fell deeply in love with Bra­jesh Singh, an In­dian com­mu­nist work­ing in Moscow. He was al­ready suf­fer­ing from the em­phy­sema that even­tu­ally killed him. She wanted to marry, but the Polit­buro de­murred. “What do you want with this old sick Hindu?” Alexei Kosy­gin, chair­man of the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters, chided her. All she wanted was love.

Though pre­vented from mar­ry­ing Singh, she was al­lowed to take his ashes to In­dia. While there, she de­cided on im­pulse to de­fect to the United States. She once re­marked, “It is amaz­ing how, when­the heart has al­ready made a de­ci­sion, rea­son only sup­plies ev­ery pos­si­ble re­as­sur­ance.” Her daugh­ter Katya, obliv­i­ous to the ra­tio­nale, never for­gave the aban­don­ment.

The won­der­ful comic opera of her es­cape is rea­son enough to buy this su­perb book. In­dia, keen to re­main on the good side of the Sovi­ets, wanted noth­ing to do with her af­ter she an­nounced her de­ci­sion to de­fect. The United States, in the in­ter­ests of de­tente, was at first sim­i­larly dis­mis­sive. “Tell them to throw that woman out of the em­bassy. Don’t give her any help at all,” Deputy Un­der sec­re­tary of State Foy Kohler ad­vised. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, the Amer­i­cans dis­cov­ered value in pos­sess­ing Stalin’s princess. Yet just as she could not es­cape the KGB’s clutches, she could never free her­self from the at­ten­tions of the CIA.

For Svet­lana, de­fec­tion was more per­sonal than po­lit­i­cal. She thought, naively, that she might fi­nally find refuge; that ex­pec­ta­tion was trag­i­cally wrong. She spent the rest of her life con­stantly on the move — from East Coast to West, from Amer­ica to Bri­tain, over to In­dia, back to Rus­sia, then back to Amer­ica. Mov­ing was a fu­tile at­tempt to es­cape her fa­ther’s shadow. Tan­ta­liz­ing mo­ments of hap­pi­ness only briefly in­ter­rupted the de­press­ing norm of lonely des­o­la­tion. “I was born in­tomy par­ents’ fate,” she even­tu­ally re­al­ized. “I was born un­der that name, that cross, and I never man­aged to jump out of it.” Yet she some­how sur­vived, and her sur­vival is tes­ti­mony to her enor­mous re­silience. “I think it was liv­ing that was the hard part,” her daugh­ter Olga re­flected. “My mother never mas­tered that.”

SVET­LANA ALLILUYEVA PRI­VATE COL­LEC­TION; COUR­TESY OF CHRESE EVANS

Svet­lana Alliluyeva at age 8, with her fa­ther, Joseph Stalin, and her brother Vasili Stalin. Her mother com­mit­ted sui­cide when Svet­lana was 6.

STALIN’S DAUGH­TER The Ex­tra­or­di­nary and Tu­mul­tuous Life of Svet­lana Alliluyeva By Rose­mary Sul­li­van Harper. 741 pp. $35

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