Sheila Fitzpatrick reviews 'Stalin's Daughter: The extraordinary and tumultuous life of Svetlana Alliluyeva' by Rosemary Sullivan

Sheila Fitzpatrick reviews 'Stalin's Daughter: The extraordinary and tumultuous life of Svetlana Alliluyeva' by Rosemary Sullivan

Stalin's Daughter: The extraordinary and tumultuous life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

by Rosemary Sullivan

Fourth Estate, $39.99 hb, 759 pp, 9780007491117

Nobody would have expected an ordinary life for Stalin's only daughter, but Svetlana's life was extraordinary beyond any expectations. Her mother killed herself in 1932, when Svetlana was six; her father treated her affectionately until as a teenager she annoyed him by becoming interested in men. Much of Svetlana's close family disappeared in the purges of the late 1930s or after the war, leaving both Svetlana and, paradoxically, Stalin lonely and isolated. When, a few years after Stalin's death in 1953, his sometime protégé Nikita Khrushchev publicly denounced his crimes, Svetlana sadly recognised the justice of the indictment. After a series of unsuccessful marriages and affairs, she defected to the United States at forty-one, leaving behind two children and becoming an unwilling celebrity and political symbol. In her late fifties, she defected back again to the Soviet Union with her non-Russian-speaking teenage daughter of an American marriage in tow, settling first in Moscow and then in her father's birthplace, Georgia. When neither worked out, she went to England, living for a time in a room with a communal kitchen in a London charitable home, as the money she had made from her memoirs after her first defection had long since run out. But she was always a nomad, and in her early seventies returned to America. She died in 2011 in a retirement home in Wisconsin.

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick is the author of three memoirs, My Father’s Daughter, A Spy in the Archives, and, most recently, Mishka’s War: A European Odyssey of the 1940s (2017). On Stalin’s Team: the Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics, was published in 2015. She is a Professor at the University of Sydney.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.