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Stalin's Daughter

Rosemary Sullivan won the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction for this biography of Svetlana Stalin.

Rosemary Sullivan

The award-winning author of Villa Air-Bel returns with a painstakingly researched, revelatory biography of Svetlana Stalin, a woman fated to live her life in the shadow of one of history's most monstrous dictators — her father, Josef Stalin.

Born in the early years of the Soviet Union, Svetlana Stalin spent her youth inside the walls of the Kremlin. Communist Party privilege protected her from the mass starvation and purges that haunted Russia, but she did not escape tragedy — the loss of everyone she loved, including her mother, two brothers, aunts and uncles, and a lover twice her age, deliberately exiled to Siberia by her father.

As she gradually learned about the extent of her father's brutality after his death, Svetlana could no longer keep quiet and in 1967 shocked the world by defecting to the United States — leaving her two children behind. But although she was never a part of her father's regime, she could not escape his legacy. Her life in America was fractured; she moved frequently, married disastrously, shunned other Russian exiles and ultimately died in poverty in Wisconsin.

With access to KGB, CIA and Soviet government archives, as well as the close cooperation of Svetlana's daughter, Rosemary Sullivan pieces together Svetlana's incredible life in a masterful account of unprecedented intimacy. Epic in scope, it's a revolutionary biography of a woman doomed to be a political prisoner of her father's name. Sullivan explores a complicated character in her broader context without ever losing sight of her powerfully human story, in the process opening a closed, brutal world that continues to fascinate us. (From HarperCollins Canada)

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At 7:00 p.m. on March 6, 1967, a taxi drew up to the open gates of the American Embassy on Shantipath Avenue in New Delhi. Watched carefully by the Indian police guard, it proceeded slowly up the circular drive. The passenger in the backseat looked out at the large circular reflecting pool, serene in the fading light. A few ducks and geese still floated among the jets of water rising from its surface. The embassy's exterior walls were constructed of pierced concrete blocks, which gave the building a light, airy look. The woman noted how different this was from the stolid institutional Soviet Embassy she had just left. So this was America.

Svetlana Alliluyeva climbed the wide steps and stared at the American eagle embedded in the glass doors. All the important decisions of her life had been taken precipitately. Once she crossed this threshold, she knew that her old life would be irrevocably lost to her. She had no doubt that the wrath of the Kremlin would soon fall on her head. She felt defiant. She felt terrified. She'd made the most important decision of her life; she'd escaped, but into what she had no idea. She did not hesitate. Clutching her small suitcase in one hand, she rang the bell.


From Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan ©2015. Published by HarperCollins Canada.

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Antanas Sileika reviews the award-winning biography by Rosemary Sullivan. 12:44

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